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The leader of ANO party Andrej Babis speaks during a news conference at the party's election headquarters after the country’s parliamentary elections in Prague, Czech Republic October 21, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny(reuters_tickers)
By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman said on Sunday he would name Andrej Babis prime minister, but the tycoon leader of the anti-establishment ANO party may struggle to find coalition partners despite his emphatic election win.
ANO won 29.6 percent of the vote at the weekend's polls, nearly three times as much as its closest rival, but many parties expressed reluctance or rejected outright any coalition with it while Babis fights off fraud charges.
Zeman said the charges were not an obstacle for Babis - the second richest Czech who has been compared to other tycoons-turned-political leaders Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi - to become prime minister.
"My aim is that when I appoint the prime minister, and that will be Andrej Babis, that there is certainty or at least high probability that this prime minister will be successful in a parliamentary vote of confidence," Zeman said in a live interview on news website www.blesk.cz.
ANO will control 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house so still needs partners from the other eight factions to form a majority, but Babis's stance as an anti-establishment force has made it difficult to forge alliances.
Opponents see Babis, worth an estimated $4 billion, as a danger to democracy because of his commanding leadership style and business and media power that they fear could pose conflicts of interest.
Police allege Babis hid ownership of one of his firms a decade ago to receive a 2 million euro EU subsidy that was meant for small businesses. He denies wrongdoing.
He moved his chemicals, food and media firms to a trust earlier this year when he held the job of finance minister, to meet conflict of interest legislation.
The centre-right Civic Democrats, who came second in the election with 25 seats, said they would remain in opposition.
"I have already ruled out talks with ANO on taking part in a government or supporting a government," party chief Petr Fiala said on Seznam.cz news website.
Two small centre-right parties, STAN and TOP09, also said they would not work with Babis.
"I can't legitimise him and create the appearance of normality," said Jan Farsky, election leader for STAN.
"Democratic forces got trounced but they will not regain strength by cooperation with Babis. That would finish them off," he told Reuters.
The centre-left Social Democrats of outgoing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who won just 7.3 percent of the vote, said they may enter talks with ANO, their current coalition partner, but only if Babis personally stays out of the cabinet.
The centrist Christian Democrats, the third current coalition partner, also made any potential support conditional on Babis not being in the government. The liberal Pirate Party, which came third in the election, also said Babis's charges were obstacle to any cooperation.
Babis has promised to stay out of the euro zone and pressure the European Union to counter immigration, but also to keep the country firmly in the EU and NATO.
But a refusal by mainstream parties to work with ANO could lead Babis to turn to the Communists and the anti-EU, anti-immigration Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) for political support.
SPD chief Tomio Okamura said Babis should stay out of the cabinet if he were to consider support. His conditions for talks would be a tough stance against immigration, a ban on promoting Islam and a referendum on leaving the European Union, he said.
The make-up of the cabinet will influence the country's tone in the EU, but unlike Poland's leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski or Hungary's Viktor Orban, Babis does not share the anti-liberal stance that has driven Warsaw and Budapest into deep spats with western partners.
President Zeman said he would meet Babis on Monday to discuss the next steps but suggested the formal appointment would happen later.
He said he would call the first session of the new parliament after the maximum 30 days allowed by the constitution, to provide time for coalition talks.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)