Czech far-right party says will not support new government

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) said on Thursday it would not support a new minority government formed by the ANO party leader Andrej Babis, making it more likely the government will lose a confidence vote next month.

If Babis loses, he will stay in power as caretaker while another coalition arrangement is sought. Given ANO’s strength, however, it is almost impossible to form a government without it.

SPD leader Tomio Okamura told a news conference his party had led talks with ANO and while there were some common points on program, there were also many differences and SPD had objections to several ministers.

“We told them we will not support this government,” Okamura told reporters.

He said ANO refused to back its plan to legislate a referendum law allowing to vote on leaving the European Union, one of SPD’s campaign calls.

Running on an anti-establishment platform and pledges to improve management of public affairs, ANO won 78 out of 200 seats in the lower house of parliament in an October election.

But it has failed to find any coalition partners or support for its minority government among the other eight factions in parliament. Only the far-left Communists, with 15 seats, have not ruled out supporting the government.

The SPD, with 22 seats, had supported ANO in a number of votes, raising the possibility that it might also in the end vote for the cabinet. The fresh rejection to back the cabinet makes Babis’s success less likely.

Under the EU and NATO member country’s constitution, Babis has to call a confidence vote by mid-January.

Several parties - including SPD but also ANO’s coalition partners in the previous cabinet, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats -- have indicated they may be open to discussions on supporting an ANO-led government in the second round if Babis’s first attempt fails.

The main objection to Babis is a police investigation into alleged fraud Babis is suspected of in tapping a 2 million euro EU subsidy for a conference center outside Prague a decade ago.

Babis denies any wrongdoing. Parliament is expected to vote in January whether to lift his immunity and allow police to prosecute him.

Parties also criticise Babis for conflicts of interests he has as a politician and a billionaire owner of over 25o firms in chemicals, farming, media and other sectors.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka