Before coming into force, the bill needs to get past the Senate and gain the president’s signature. ANO is already contemplating contesting Lex Babiš before the Constitutional Court, should the legislation make it onto the statute books. “We will consult lawyers first,” said Babiš, who combines his role as finance minister with his ownership of agricultural, food processing and chemical giant Agrofert and substantial media stakes.
The bill makes it illegal for Cabinet ministers to own media companies and bans businesses in which a minister holds a stake of 25 percent or more from receiving public procurement contracts, subsidies and investment incentives. These stipulations resulted from two key amendments submitted by Jiří Chvojka (Social Democrat) and Martin Plíšek (TOP 09). “We’ve taken a significant step towards preventing the concentration of power in a single pair of hands. Government ministers’ firms should not be recipients of public money,” said Plíšek.
The bill sailed through the 200-member chamber with a clear majority given by the combined 135 votes of MPs in the Social Democrat and Christian Democrat ruling coalition parties and of all present MPs in the Civic Democrat, TOP 09, Mayors and Independents [STAN], Communist and Úsvit [Dawn] opposition parties. Only ANO MPs opposed the bill. The debate took two hours but it was unexpectedly calm.
“I do not see a reason why someone who has built a family firm, and then for certain reasons wants to go into politics, which is truly a wonderful life experience, should in advance of making a move be told by the traditional political parties that they cannot do so. The trend worldwide is quite the reverse,” Babiš told journalists outside the chamber. The ANO chair excused himself from the debate, citing the need to attend meetings with Cabinet colleagues over the 2017 state budget.
Babiš’s place was taken by Jaroslav Faltýnek, chair of the ANO MPs’ caucus. “‘Look, there goes Babiš, let’s make a law to hit this person. And not just him alone, but every other successful businessperson, to stop them from entering politics,’” Faltýnek wryly remarked. He added that the bill was driven by the “shared desire of the traditional political parties to get rid of Babiš to reprivatise politics for themselves”.