(Bloomberg) -- Czech President Milos Zeman appointed fiscally and socially conservative Petr Fiala as the next prime minister as the country grapples with surging inflation and one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
During the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, the two men were separated by a glass barrier because Zeman is quarantining after a positive Covid-19 test. Fiala, backed by five center-right parties that jointly won parliamentary control in elections last month, expects to take over from the outgoing government of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis in mid-December.
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Fiala’s coalition has pledged to slash pandemic-era budget deficits and mend relations with the European Union, which has threatened to pull subsidies for the Czech Republic over Babis’s suspected conflict of interest. But the new administration’s first challenge will be a record surge in coronavirus infections that threatens to overrun hospitals in the former communist country of 10.7 million people that trails western peers in vaccinations.
“I’ll do all it takes to make sure my government will not only guide the country through this very difficult situation, but also adopt important changes to ensure solid future for our citizens and our children,” 57-year-old political scientist Fiala told Zeman during the ceremony.
Babis’s ANO party won the most seats in the lower chamber of parliament last month, but failed to find ruling partners after police recommended indicting the tycoon in a case of financial fraud. The outgoing premier has also faced ire over one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls and a public spending spree that has fanned inflation and drawn criticism from the central bank.
While Fiala has urged a fast transfer of power, this largely hinges on the chronically ill, 77-year-old president, a lifelong heavy smoker and drinker who spent most of October and November in a hospital. Zeman is also an ally of Babis and has a track record of bending the constitution to carve out more power for himself by blocking some cabinet appointments.
After appointing Fiala, who is chairman of the Civic Democrats, the president said he would interview candidates to be cabinet ministers over the next two weeks, but didn’t commit to any deadline for naming them.
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