Czech president Milos Zeman hospitalized, affecting formation of new govt

Czech President Milos Zeman was rushed to the hospital on Sunday, a day after the country held parliamentary election in which populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ party surprisingly came in second and Zeman has a key role in establishing a new government.

The Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial post but the president has the right to choose what political leader can try to form the next government.

Earlier Sunday, Zeman met with Babis, his close ally, but the prime minister made no comment as he left the presidential chateau in Lany, near Prague.

On Saturday, the centrist ANO (Yes) party led by Babis, a populist billionaire, narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election, which could spell the end of the euroskeptic leader’s reign in the European Union nation of 10.7 million people.

A liberal-conservative three-party coalition named Together captured 27.8 percent of the vote, beating Babis’ ANO, which won 27.1 percent. In a second blow to the populists, another center-left liberal coalition received 15.6 percent of the vote to finish third.

The winning coalition won 71 seats while its third-place partner captured 37 seats to have a comfortable majority of 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament, and they pledged Saturday night to work together. Babis won 72 seats, six less than in the 2017 election.

But Zeman earlier indicated he would first appoint the leader of the strongest party, not the strongest coalition, to try to form the government, which would be Babis. In his only post-election comment, he congratulated the election winner and all elected lawmakers.

The anti-migrant and anti-Muslim force in the Czech Republic, the Freedom and Direct Democracy party, which wants the country to leave the EU, finished fourth with 9.6 percent support, or 20 seats. In another surprise, the Social Democrats and the Communists, the country’s traditional parliamentary parties, failed to win seats in parliament for the first time since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

It’s not clear how the hospitalization of Zeman, 77, will affect efforts to form the next government. Zeman is a heavy smoker and drinker who has suffered from diabetes. He has trouble walking and has been using a wheelchair.

Prague’s military hospital confirmed that Zeman was transported there Sunday.

“The reason for his hospitalization are the complications that accompany the chronic disease for which we treat him here,” said Dr. Miroslav Zavoral, the director of the clinic. He declined to elaborate.

Zeman was previously admitted on Sept. 14 for what his office described later as a planned examination. The office said the president was only dehydrated and slightly exhausted. 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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