| 24 October 2021, Sunday |

Czech turmoil as president goes to hospital during post-election talks

The Czech Republic was thrown into uncertainty on Sunday when President Milos Zeman was taken to hospital a day after a surprise election result handed him a key role in charting the country’s future.

Andrej Babis, the country’s billionaire prime minister, had met Zeman for talks after surprisingly losing to an opposition bloc in Saturday’s vote.

With both Babis and his opponents both claiming the right to form a government, Mr Zeman will be a key power-broker in post-election talks.

But his involvement was abruptly cut short when he was taken to hospital, where his doctor said he was in intensive care.

His doctor, Miroslav Zavoral, said he did not have permission to give details of Zeman’s condition. But the president, 77, has chronic health problems and spent eight nights in hospital last month.

“We know the diagnosis precisely, which allows us to target treatment,” said the doctor.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks to the media after his ANO party lost the general election. Getty

Power struggle

As president, Zeman has the power to nominate the prime minister and has indicated that he could use it to Babis’s advantage.

Babis conceded on Saturday that his rivals had won more votes as a coalition, but his ANO party was the largest single group.

Before the election, Zeman had indicated that he would nominate the leader of the largest individual party.

“If the president authorizes me to do so, I will lead talks on forming a cabinet,” said Babis, who has been in power since 2017.

But the centre-right alliance, known as Together, would have a majority if it agreed a deal with another opposition bloc called Pirates/Mayors.

Petr Fiala, the leader of Together, had said that the two blocs would ask Zeman for approval to form a government.

“I am convinced that the election results are unambiguous,” he said. “The constitution clearly states that the government must be supported by a majority in parliament.”