Czech government wins confidence vote backed by Communists

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis delivers his speech in the Czech Parliament in Prague on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Michal Cizek)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Czech government wins confidence vote backed by Communists

  • A total of 105 lawmakers out of 196 present in the 200-seat parliament voted in favor of Babis’s minority cabinet, while 91 were against.
  • A Communist Party member in the 1980s, Babis has denied allegations that he served as a regime secret police agent before 1989.

PRAGUE: The minority government of billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis won a parliamentary confidence vote Thursday, becoming the first administration since the 1989 collapse of communism to rely on backing from the Communist Party.
It took Babis nine months to form a government after he won last October’s election, with potential partners initially shunning him over allegations of EU subsidy fraud among other concerns.
He finally struck a minority coalition deal with the Social Democrats in June, but with just 93 seats they must rely on backing from the Communist Party, which controls 15 seats.
“The parliament has voiced confidence in the cabinet,” parliament speaker Radek Vondracek said early Thursday morning after a marathon session lasting more than 16 hours.
A total of 105 lawmakers out of 196 present in the 200-seat parliament voted in favor of Babis’s minority cabinet, while 91 were against.
The staunchly pro-Russian and anti-NATO Communists pledged to back Babis in exchange for positions in state-owned enterprises, giving them a role in government, albeit an informal one, for the first time since the Communist regime fell in the former Czechoslovakia.
“This situation is brand new, it’s a shift,” Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst from Palacky University in the eastern city of Olomouc, told AFP.
“But it’s not a revolution. The Communists have experience with such support and even governing on the regional and municipal level,” he added.
Several hundred protesters gathered outside parliament on Wednesday to protest against the Communist Party, echoing larger protests across the EU country in June.
When Babis walked out to meet the protesters, he was booed back into the parliament building. Media said some protesters threw plastic bottles at him.
Lebeda said he expected the cabinet to enjoy “basic stability for some time.”
“But a minority cabinet is always less stable, and this is also a coalition cabinet. Its stability won’t be too great,” he added.
Babis’s populist ANO (YES) movement won the October vote campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, but the tycoon has struggled to put together a viable coalition because of his murky past.
A Communist Party member in the 1980s, Babis has denied allegations that he served as a regime secret police agent before 1989.
A Slovak-born food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech, Babis is also indicted with EU subsidy fraud to the tune of two million euros ($2.4 million). He has denied any wrongdoing.
Babis’s first attempt to form a government failed in January when his minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts lost a confidence vote.
President Milos Zeman gave him a second chance in June after ANO clinched a minority coalition deal with the Social Democrats, with whom they governed as a junior partner from 2013 to 2017.
The cabinet is incomplete as Zeman refused to name Social Democrat Miroslav Poche foreign minister, with the job temporarily taken by party chairman and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek.
The pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim Zeman, who is also a former Communist, has slammed Poche over allegations of corruption and his tolerant stance on migrants.
Babis has vowed to fight illegal migration, a hot issue for the 10.6 million people in the republic, although very few asylum seekers made it to the country in the wake of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis.
The Czech Republic was among four hard-line anti-migrant eastern EU states that crowed victory last month over a controversial deal dropping the EU’s mandatory quota system in favor of measures designed to stem the influx of asylum seekers.


Lion Air crash victims’ families to rally as hunt for wreckage steps up

Updated 9 min 51 sec ago
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Lion Air crash victims’ families to rally as hunt for wreckage steps up

  • Lion Air is paying for a specialized ship to help lift the main wreckage of flight JT 610 and give investigators a better chance of finding the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) in a search that has lacked sophisticated equipment for the last month
  • The enhanced search will cost $2.8 million for the first 10 days

JAKARTA: Families of some of the 189 people killed in a Lion Air plane crash plan a protest rally in Indonesia on Thursday, while stalled efforts to bring the main wreckage to the surface and find the second black box are set to resume next week.
The Boeing Co. 737 MAX jet crashed into the Java Sea on Oct. 29 shortly after take-off from Jakarta, but the families expressed concern that the remains of 64 passengers have yet to be identified, with just 30 percent of the plane’s body found.
“The relatives hope that all members of our families who died in the accident can be found and their bodies buried in a proper way,” a group that says it represents about 50 families said in a statement.
“We hope the search for the victims will use vessels with sophisticated technology,” it added, ahead of the rally planned for outside the presidential palace in Jakarta.
Lion Air is paying for a specialized ship to help lift the main wreckage of flight JT 610 and give investigators a better chance of finding the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) in a search that has lacked sophisticated equipment for the last month, Reuters reported.
Indonesia’s national transport panel said the vessel was due to arrive on Monday.
The enhanced search will cost $2.8 million for the first 10 days, a source close to the airline said on Thursday, on condition of anonymity, adding that Lion Air is paying because the government does not have the budget.
A spokesman for Lion Air was unable to respond immediately to a request for comment.
“Funds for the CVR search will be borne by Lion Air which has signed a contract for a ship from a Singaporean company,” a finance ministry spokesman told Reuters.
Lion Air’s decision to foot the bill is a rare test of global norms regarding search independence, as such costs are typically paid by governments.
In this case, investigators said they had faced bureaucratic wrangling and funding problems before Lion Air stepped in.
Safety experts say it is unusual for one of the parties to help fund an investigation, required by UN rules to be independent, so as to ensure trust in any safety recommendations made.
There are also broader concerns about resources available for such investigations worldwide, coupled with the risk of agencies being ensnared in legal disputes.
The clock is ticking in the hunt for acoustic pings coming from the L3 Technologies Inc. cockpit voice recorder fitted to the jet. It has a 90-day beacon, the manufacturer’s online brochure shows.
The flight data recorder was retrieved three days after the crash, providing insight into aircraft systems and crew inputs, although the cause has yet to be determined.