PRAGUE – Czech President Milos Zeman on Wednesday swore in a new government, ending seven months of political instability following the collapse of the previous cabinet in a whirlwind of corruption allegations.
It marks a return to power for the left-wing Social Democrats for the first time since 2006. The coalition government led by party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka is expected to be more pro-European Union than previous center-right governments led by the conservative and euro-skeptic Civic Democratic Party.
Lubomir Zaoralek, the new foreign minister said the country has "no alternative" other than to adopt the euro currency, and the new finance minister, Andrej Babis, says he has no problem with that. The previous center-right governments had set no target date for adopting the euro, which the country is officially committed to join.
The coalition has pledged to fight corruption, encourage better governance and support economic growth following the longest recession in history.
The Social Democrats scored a victory in October's parliamentary elections, but its efforts to form a coalition bogged down for months over several issues, in particular the Social Democrats' desire to increase income tax for those in the highest bracket. They finally gave up the goal, at least for 2014, signing a deal with the centrist ANO (Yes) movement led by billionaire businessman Babis and the centrist Christian Democrats to form a center-left coalition.
"I'm sure that this coalition is the only possible option under the current circumstances," Zeman said during a ceremony at the Prague Castle.
The government still has to face a parliamentary confidence vote, but that is expected to be a formality because it has a comfortable 111 seats in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament.
The Slovak-born Babis is currently suing Slovakia's Institute of the Nation's Memory, which claims it has evidence that Babis was an agent of the communist-era secret police, a charge he denies.
"I never collaborated," Babis said Wednesday.
A court in the Slovak capital of Bratislava might issue a verdict on the suit on Thursday. Babis became a rising star after he attracted a surprisingly high number of voters who were disgusted by corruption scandals and didn't seem to care about the allegations about his past.