Czech Republic president swears in new coalition government

PRAGUE (AP) — A new coalition government took office in the Czech Republic on Friday, with the coronavirus pandemic and soaring inflation presenting immediate policy challenges.

President Milos Zeman swore in the Cabinet at the presidential chateaux in Lany, west of Prague, ending the government of his ally, populist billionaire Andrej Babis, as prime minister.

Two political coalitions that together collected a majority of parliament seats in the country’s Oct. 8-9 election signed a power-sharing deal to rule together.

The new partnership holds 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house, relegating Babis and his centrist ANO (YES) movement to the opposition. ANO narrowly lost the election with 27.1% of the vote.

A three-party, liberal-conservative coalition known as Together, composed of the Civic Democratic Party, the Christian Democrats and the TOP 09 party, came in first with 27.8% of the vote.

Together has formed a government with a center-left liberal coalition made up of the Pirate Party and STAN — a group of mayors and independent candidates — which placed third.

Despite their differences on many issues, including climate change, same-sex marriage and the adoption of the euro, the coalition parties all support the Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union and NATO membership.

The five-party coalition is led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who was sworn in on Nov 28.

Fiala, 57, who has led the conservative Civic Democratic Party since 2014, is a political science professor. He served as education minister between 2012-13.

“We don’t start at an easy situation,” Fiala said. “Our country and its citizens face huge problems.”

In one of its first moves, the new administration decided not to extend a 30-day state of emergency declared by the previous government on Nov 25 to tackle a record surge of coronavirus infections.

New infections have been on a decline over the last two weeks.

“We’re following the situation about the omicron variant abroad and we’re ready to respond quickly if necessary,” Fiala said.

The new health minister, Vlastimil Valek, opposes a vaccination mandate for people age 60 and older that was approved by the previous Cabinet set to take effect in March.

The Czech Republic, which has a population of 10.7 million, is among the European countries hardest hit by the pandemic. It has reported nearly 2.4 million confirmed cases and more than 35,000 deaths in the pandemic.

The government’s candidate agriculture minister, Zdenek Nekula, missed Friday’s swearing-in ceremony after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Officials said he would take office in January.

The new government promised to present a plan to help residents affected by high energy prices, one of the factors behind high inflation that reached 6% in November. It also plans to rework next year’s budget plan with a smaller deficit than the one proposed by the previous government.

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