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Czech Babis gains possible support in bid for minority government

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech billionaire Andrej Babis gained possible support on Monday for his bid to form a minority government with his ANO movement when the small Communist party said it could “tolerate” the prospect.

The leader of ANO party Andrej Babis leaves the Lany chateau after meeting with President Milos Zeman following the country's parliamentary elections in the village of Lany near Prague, Czech Republic October 23, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny

ANO won nearly three times as many votes as its closest competitor in a parliamentary election this month when voters shunned traditional parties but fell short of a majority in the lower house.

Since then, the other eight parties that won seats have refused cooperation with ANO with the exception of the SPD, a far-right, anti-European Union party that is not a preferred coalition partner for Babis.

The businessman ran on an anti-establishment platform and pledged to fight political corruption but he faces potential fraud charges himself.

The ANO has 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house and is considering forming a minority government but it must win a confidence vote with a simple majority of those present.

The head of the far-left Communist party (KSCM) said he could tolerate a minority cabinet as a way out of the impasse.

“It is a question of how much the government’s program would fit us, to tolerate this government,” KSCM chairman Vojtech Filip told Czech Television. “I am not saying we will support it, I am speaking about tolerance.”

KSCM with its 15 seats would have to leave the lower house during a confidence vote thus lowering the threshold ANO would need to win.

President Milos Zeman, who will meet with Babis on Tuesday, told Czech Radio a minority government would be a good option.

Most parties shun Babis and his ANO party because of the fraud charges. Police say he hid ownership of a farm and conference center near Prague in 2008 so he could qualify for a 2 million euro EU subsidy normally meant for small businesses.

Babis denies wrongdoing and says the charges were politically motivated.

** For a GRAPHIC of election results:

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg