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Czech President Milos Zeman hospitalized; Formation of new government may have an impact

By The Associated Press

Prague: Czech President Milos Zeman was taken to hospital on Sunday, a day after parliamentary elections were held in which populist Prime Minister Lady Babis’ party came in a surprising second place and Zeman’s role in setting up a new government .

The Czech Presidency is largely ceremonial but the President chooses which political leader can attempt to form the next government.

Earlier on Sunday, Zaman met his close aide Babis, but the prime minister did not comment as he left for the presidency in Lani, near Prague.

On Saturday, the centrist ANO (Yes) party, led by Babis, a populist billionaire, lost the Czech Republic election, which could end the Eurosceptic leader’s rule in the EU’s country of 10.7 million people.

A liberal-conservative three-party coalition named Together won 27.8% of the vote, defeating Babis’s ANO, which won 27.1% of the vote.

In a second blow to populists, another centre-left liberal coalition gained 15.6% to finish third.

The winning coalition won 71 seats, while its third-place mate grabbed 37 seats for a comfortable majority of 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament, and they resolved to work together.

Babis’s party won 72 seats, six fewer than in the 2017 election.

But Zeman had previously indicated that he would first appoint the leader of the strongest party, not the strongest coalition, to try to form a government.

This would give Babis a chance to try to find a majority for his potential new government.

If he fails as expected, and his latest government fails to win a mandatory trust vote in the House, Zeman can ask him to try to form a new government again.

This has happened before.

With no deadline for the presidential move, the country faced political instability from the October 2017 election until July of the following year, when Babis’ second cabinet eventually won a vote of confidence.

“It will be no surprise if the election defeat does not become a reality for Babis for months to come,” said analyst Petr Just from Metropolitan University Prague.

But unlike 2017, this latest election produced a clear winner.

The leader of Together and its candidate for Prime Minister Petr Fiala urged Zeman to accept the election results.

“The opposition has got a clear majority in the lower house,” Fiala said.

“The constitution clearly states that a government needs the support of a majority. We will see what steps President Zeman has to take, but it is necessary that he cannot ignore it.”

In his only post-election remarks, Zaman congratulated the election winner and all elected MPs.

If Zeman is not able to act due to his illness or other reasons, the prime minister and the speaker of both houses of parliament will assume his presidential powers.

If this happens, the new speaker of the lower house selects the premier.

Parliament has to meet within 30 days of the election to select the speaker and other officials.

In other election results, the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, an anti-migrant and anti-Muslim force in the Czech Republic that wants the country to leave the European Union, came fourth with 9.6% support, or 20 seats.

In another surprise, both the Social Democrats and the Communists, the country’s traditional parliamentary parties, failed to win seats in parliament for the first time since the partition of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Prague’s military hospital confirmed that Zaman had been taken there on Sunday.

Zeman, 77, is a heavy smoker and drinker who suffers from diabetes.

He has trouble walking and is using a wheelchair.

“The reason for his hospitalization is the complications associated with the chronic disease that we are treating here,” said Dr Miroslav Zavoral, director of the clinic.

He declined to elaborate.

Presidential spokesman Jiri Ovcacek later said that his current stay in the hospital did not threaten the country’s post-election negotiations and his constitutional duties.

He said Zaman has asked to receive media surveillance on a daily basis.

Zeman was first admitted on 14 September, in what his office later described as a planned test.

The office said the president was only dehydrated and a little tired.

Zeman was released after eight days, his longest hospital stay.

He spent four days in the same hospital in 2019 for similar reasons.

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