Billionaire Ex-Premier Seeks Comeback in Czech Presidential Bid

(Bloomberg) -- Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, one of the country’s richest citizens, said he’ll run for president in January in a bid to return to power by taking the nation’s highest office.

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The chemicals, agriculture and media billionaire, who was a backer of former US President Donald Trump until the January 2021 Capitol riots, announced his candidacy in a live news program of the private channel TV Nova late on Sunday.

Babis said he decided on a run because the current government under Prime Minister Peter Fiala “isn’t functioning and isn’t helping people” in the current energy crisis.

In the Czech Republic, the president’s job is mostly ceremonial, with key executive powers held by the government. But the head of state plays a role in the creation of the cabinet, leads the military, picks central bankers and appoints judges.

Outgoing President Milos Zeman, Babis’s long-time ally, has repeatedly carved out more powers and imposed his influence over the nation’s executive. He bent constitutional conventions in 2013, defying a parliamentary majority by naming his own technocratic administration that ruled for six months without ever winning a parliamentary mandate.

Babis would advance to the second round of the presidential ballot, but may struggle to win the final round, according to opinion polls. Surveys show that retired NATO military officer Petr Pavel has the strongest support before the first round scheduled for Jan. 13-14.

Babis’s candidacy drew ire from ruling coalition leaders given he’s facing a trial over an alleged fraud related to European Union subsidies. Babis has rejected the charges as an attack orchestrated by his rivals.

“In democratic countries, a politician facing charges leaves,” said Fiala, who led a coalition of center-right parties to defeat Babis in last year’s general elections.

The billionaire built his political career mainly on blasting traditional politicians as corrupt and incompetent. As prime minister, he embraced an anti-migrant agenda and became one of the closest allies of Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

(Updates with quote from Babis in third paragraph.)

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