Early results showed Andrej Babiš’s ANO party with a narrow lead over two opposition coalitions trying to unseat him, according to the Czech Statistical Office. With 41% of votes counted, the incumbent ANO party had 29.93% of the vote, followed by the center-right Together coalition with 24.22%, and the centrist PirStan coalition on 13.7%.
They were followed by the far-right SPD on 10.81% and the Social Democrats — who are part of the current governing coalition — at 5.05%.
However the early results do not show Babiš’s ANO party with a clear path to parliamentary majority, and it is possible the country’s new prime minister could come from the joined-up coalitions.
Complicating matters further, President Miloš Zeman — who has thrown his support behind ANO and Babiš — said he would ask the single party with the most votes to try to form a government, even if there is no clear path to a majority.
During the election Babiš, once dubbed the “Czech Trump” by some local media outlets because of his vast business empire and populist leanings, campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic platform.
The 67-year-old business tycoon also faced challenges from opposition parties over his financial dealings, which they claimed represented a conflict of interest.
Pandora’s box of scandals
The tight election also comes just days after a Pandora Papers investigation into controversial financial dealings by Babiš and other world leaders. The report claimed the Czech Prime Minister secretly moved $22 million through offshore companies to purchase an estate on the French Riviera in 2009, before he entered politics.
Responding on Twitter, Babiš wrote: “There is no case that they can pull against me during the time I am in politics.
“I have never done anything unlawful or bad, but it does not stop them to try to slander me again and to try to influence Czech parliamentary elections,” he added.
A businessman who is worth about $3.4 billion, according to Bloomberg, Babiš has railed against the elite since he became prime minister in 2017, vowing to crack down on tax avoidance.
But his premiership has been dogged by long-standing allegations of financial impropriety.
In 2019, tens of thousands of Czechs took to the streets in some of the biggest protests since the 1989 revolution over Babiš’s financial affairs and other issues.As the owner of the Agrofert conglomerate of food, chemicals and media companies, Babiš was one of the richest business tycoons in the Czech Republic. In 2017, he placed the business into a trust, as required by law in order to remain in his post as finance minister. He became prime minister later that year.But a European Commission audit later found Babiš breached conflict of interest rules over his control of trust funds linked to Agrofert.
Babiš rejected the findings, saying the audit was “manipulated and artificially induced by professional snitches” from the ranks of opposition parties.
CNN Prima’s John Mastrini reported from Prague, CNN’s Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Rob Iddiols, Vasco Cotovio and Ivana Kottasová contributed to this report