By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE (Reuters) -Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Friday promised a smooth handover of power to a bloc of opposition parties that won last weekend’s election, giving up the option of forming a government himself.
Two opposition coalitions, the centre-right Together and the liberal Pirates/Mayors, won 108 seats between them in the 200-seat lower house of parliament and have said they want to form a government together.
Babis, head of the centrist ANO party, had acknowledged the opposition win but held out the possibility he may still have the first stab at forming a new cabinet as the head of the biggest single party in parliament.
But on Friday he abandoned that option.
“We will go into opposition” without first trying to form a cabinet, he said.
“We do not cling on to positions, we will not block anything. It is in my interest for our country to prosper as it did under our government,” he said on Twitter.
President Milos Zeman, an ally of Babis, said before the election that he would nominate the head of the biggest party to make the first attempt at forming a new government.
However, Zeman, 77, has made no comment on the matter since the election as he was admitted to an intensive care unit of a Prague hospital on Sunday with an undisclosed illness.
Given a lack of potential coalition partners, any Babis-led cabinet would almost certainly fail to win the necessary vote of confidence in the lower house, though the attempt could have extended his stint in power for months.
Babis’s departure after four years will resolve conflicts of interest he was accused of as the founder of a farming, food, chemicals and media empire, Agrofert, which he put into trust funds before becoming prime minister. He denied any wrongdoing.
The European Commission halted payments of development subsidies to Agrofert, and some other payments while demanding improvement of conflict of interest controls.
The new government may also be less keen on a close relationship with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, a Babis ally.
The incoming coalition, led by centre-right political science professor Petr Fiala, has pledged to slash the budget deficit proposed for next year, but the five parties have not revealed any concrete plans on how to achieve that.
A new cabinet may only be appointed after a parliamentary session due to start on Nov. 8.
Uncertainty over Zeman’s health may cause a delay. If the president is incapacitated, both houses of parliament can relieve him of duties, and the task of appointing the new prime minister would go to the speaker of the new lower house, who will be chosen by the new majority.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)