Czech finance minister's party holds wide lead ahead of October election

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2017 10:49 AM

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The centrist party led by the Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis has a 10.5 percentage point lead over the prime minister's Social Democrats, a poll showed on Friday, ahead of October's parliamentary election.

The CVVM poll puts the billionaire businessman Babis, whose net worth was put at $3.4 billion by Forbes this month, just short of U.S. President Donald Trump, in prime position to be the country's next leader.

His ANO movement would win 32.5 percent, 1 percentage point up from February, while support for Bohuslav Sobotka's Social Democrats rose by 2 percentage points to 22 percent.

According to CVVM, ANO has held a lead over the Social Democrats for most of the time since the October 2013 election, and has not polled less than its rival since August last year.

No party is likely to win an outright majority and the next government will probably be a coalition of two or more factions.

Babis campaigned in 2013 to smash the traditional set-up and weed out corruption in parties that have ruled the country since the end of communism in 1989 before joining a coalition with the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.

ANO favors lower taxes but lacks deeply rooted views on issues such as European integration.

Babis has faced accusations by rivals of having constant conflict of interests as minister and businessman, and of tax avoidance in the past. He denies any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, Babis transferred his vast chemicals, food, farming and media holdings to a trust fund to meet the conditions of new conflict of interest legislation.

Five more parties would beat the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament, with the Communist party leading the rest of the field at 12 percent and three center-right factions polling below 10 percent each. The far-right SPD polled 5 percent in the CVVM model.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alison Williams)