Czech PM’s populist party loses election in nail biting election

Czech Republic’s prime minister Andrej Babiš’s centrist party narrowly lost the parliamentary election on Saturday, a surprise development that could mean the end of the populist billionaire’s reign in power.

The two-day election to fill 200 seats in the lower house of parliament took place shortly after details emerged of Babiš’s overseas financial dealings in the Pandora Papers. Babiš, 67, has denied wrongdoing.

With 100% of the votes counted, the center-right alliance Spolu (Together) won the most votes with 27.79% of the ballots, followed by Babiš's ANO party with 27.12%, and the centrist PirStan coalition on 15.62%, according to a tally of votes on the statistical office's website.

While Babiš's party ANO won the most votes of any single party, it does not have any clear path to a majority after Saturday's vote.

“The two democratic coalitions have gained a majority and have a chance to form a majority government,” said Petr Fiala, Together’s leader and its candidate for prime minister.

"We are the change. You are the change," he said Saturday, claiming victory before a cheering crowd.

The winning coalition won 71 seats while its partner captured 37 seats to have a comfortable majority of 108 seats. Babiš won 72 seats, six less than in the 2017 election.

The five opposition parties, which have policies closer to the European Union’s mainstream compared with the populist Babiš, put aside their differences in this election to create the two coalitions, seeking to oust the Eurosceptic prime minister from power.

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 Eurosceptic 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.