July 12, 2019 / 4:13 PM / a month ago

Czech Social Democrats to decide Monday whether to quit government

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Social Democrats will decide on Monday whether to leave the minority government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis due to a long-running spat over replacing one of their ministers, party chief Jan Hamacek said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis talks to media as he arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

The spat threatens the survival of the uneasy center-left coalition that has governed the Czech Republic since last year.

The Social Democrats have been irked by a series of investigations over possible conflicts of interest involving Babis, a billionaire businessman, which have prompted mass street protests against the government.

They are also furious with President Milos Zeman over his reluctance to sack Culture Minister Antonin Stanek, whom they accuse of being ineffective, and to replace him with their preferred candidate, Michal Smarda.

On Friday, Zeman said he was ready to dismiss the minister at the end of July, Hamacek said after a meeting with the president. But he added that Zeman had stopped short of agreeing to appoint Smarda in his place, meaning the standoff continues.

“There are two alternatives on the table, one that minister Stanek will be dismissed and the (Social Democrat) leadership sticks with the nomination of Michal Smarda, or the leadership decides that our ministers will submit their resignations and our government role will be over,” Hamacek told reporters.

Hamacek declined to say which options he preferred.

The Social Democrats’ departure would strip the government of its parliamentary majority.

Zeman has suggested Babis, who leads the populist ANO party, turn to the far-right, anti-EU and anti-NATO Freedom and Direct Democracy Party for support in parliament, a suggestion Babis has rejected.

A snap early election could only be held if 120 members of the 200-seat lower house agreed on calling the vote.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones

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