PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman will re-appoint Andrej Babis as prime minister regardless of whether he wins a new presidential term, he said, preventing a potential new head of state making his own appointment.
Babis, a billionaire businessman and leader of the ANO party which won parliamentary election in October, resigned as prime minister last week after losing a confidence vote in parliament where he does not command a majority.
Zeman reiterated in a television debate late on Monday he would give Babis another chance to form a government, possibly giving him months to find partners to form a majority.
This could coincide with the end of Zeman's mandate on March 7, when Zeman will leave office if challenger Jiri Drahos wins the election this weekend. Final opinion polls this week gave Zeman and Drahos roughly equal chances to win the election.
Zeman said he would speed up the appointment of Babis if he were to lose the election.
"Mr Jiri Drahos will not have the opportunity to make the nomination," Zeman said.
If Zeman wins, he would postpone with the appointment until Babis finds enough parliamentary support.
ANO has 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament.
Zeman has been backing Babis, and ANO has in turn endorsed Zeman for president, although Babis had sharply criticised Zeman in the past.
Drahos, a lifelong academic, has said he would advise Babis not to seek premiership while he defends himself from a police charge that he hid ownership of one of his firms to qualify for a European Union subsidy a decade ago.
Babis could face jail if convicted. He denies any wrongdoing.
Since the resignation last week, Babis is serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is appointed, allowing his cabinet to carry on with no restrictions on its powers.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)