Embattled Czech mogul PM expected to survive confidence vote

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis faces police charges and the biggest protests seen in three dacades (AFP Photo/VLADIMIR SIMICEK)

Prague (AFP) - Billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis appeared set to survive a no-confidence vote Wednesday, analysts said, even as he faces charges of graft, EU concerns over possible conflicts of interest and mass rallies demanding his resignation.

Speaking in parliament ahead of the vote, Babis dubbed the move an "attempt to destabilise the country" as he vowed not to budge.

Babis's ANO movement leads a minority coalition with the Social Democrats (CSSD), relying on informal backing from the Communists for a majority of 108 seats in the 200-member parliament.

Both the CSSD and the Communists have said they will support Babis and ANO in the no-confidence motion called by the opposition.

"It would be a surprise if they (the government) lost. The chances are tiny," Tomas Lebeda, an analyst at Palacky University in the eastern city of Olomouc, told AFP, echoing other commentators.

"The opposition needs 101 votes and it doesn't have them."

The 64-year-old Slovak-born Babis, who made his fortune as the founder and owner of the sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding, has come under fire over allegedly murky business dealings.

He faces police charges in connection with a two million euro ($2.25 million) EU subsidy scam, while the EU is probing his dual role as politician and entrepreneur.

Babis allegedly served as a Communist secret police agent in the 1980s when the former Czechoslovakia was behind the Iron Curtain.

Babis staunchly denies any wrongdoing, insisting that the EU audit contained "errors" and characterising the other allegations as a smear campaign.

"The vote is not as much about the government as it is about me," Babis told lawmakers on Wednesday.

"I don't really understand. This is an attempt to destabilise our country, it's against the interests of our citizens," he added.

"I am the prime minister of all Czech citizens, I fight to defend their interests... I don't know who can blame me for anything," he said, adding that he hoped the cabinet would complete its four-year mandate.

The session, which began at 11:30 am (0930 GMT), is likely to be a marathon as lawmakers have given themselves until midnight to vote.

Babis has been the target of massive rallies since the appointment in April of Justice Minister Marie Benesova, seen as an ally who could sweep the charges against the PM under the rug.

More than 250,000 people rallied in Prague on Sunday demanding that Babis resign in the biggest Czech protest since the fall of Communism in 1989.

Despite the uproar, ANO -- described by critics as a one-man party -- tops opinion polls with 30 percent support and won May's European Parliament elections.