Prague (AFP) - Czech President Milos Zeman said Sunday he would ask billionaire Andrej Babis to form the next government, a day after his populist ANO movement cruised to victory in the general election.
Capitalising on voter frustration with traditional parties, ANO (Yes) raked in 29.7 percent of the vote for 78 seats in the 200-member parliament, campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket despite Babis's recent indictment over EU subsidy fraud.
"I keep my promises and the promise was that I would tap the election winner as prime minister," Zeman told the Blesk tabloid in a streamed interview, adding he saw Babis "not as a populist, but a pragmatist".
Facing a presidential election in January, Zeman has repeatedly endorsed Babis.
The 73-year-old pro-Chinese, pro-Russian and anti-Muslim veteran leftwinger said he would use the entire 30-day period following elections to convene the first session of parliament after the election to give parties -- and Babis -- room for talks.
Analysts have predicted difficult coalition negotiations as most parties appeared to shun the controversial billionaire.
The tycoon said Sunday that ANO was "close to" the rightwing eurosceptic Civic Democrats (25 seats), parliamentary newcomers the anti-establishment Pirate Party (22 seats) and the far-right anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD - 22 seats) backed by France's National Front.
"If he's rejected by traditional parties refusing him as prime minister over his scandals, the question is whether Babis will address non-system parties and negotiate with SPD, the Communists, maybe Pirates," independent analyst Jiri Pehe told AFP.
A 63-year-old Slovak-born chemicals, food and media tycoon, Babis has vowed to steer clear of the eurozone and echoes other eastern EU leaders who accuse Brussels of attempting to limit national sovereignty by imposing rules like migrant quotas.
But he favours a united Europe and balks at talk of a "Czexit".
Pehe said Babis would not want to "upset the EU too much" in the end because of his business interests in the western part of the bloc.
Despite their country's economic success with record-low unemployment and steady growth, analysts said many Czechs who are heavily in debt or working long hours for low wages feel they have been left behind and turned to populist, eurosceptic and far-right parties to vent their ire.
Traditional parties lost big and the leftwing Social Democrats (CSSD), who head the outgoing coalition government, took a bruising, coming in sixth with 7.3 percent (15 seats) of the vote.