Czech PM Babis' party wins wide support in regional elections

FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for the second face-to-face European Union summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium October 1, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ party won in 10 of 13 regional elections on Saturday in a vote seen as an indicator of support for his party’s handling of the country’s second wave of the fast-increasing coronavirus outbreak.

The election for regional governments saw 38% of eligible voters turn out, as novel coronavirus case numbers around the country soar. The turn-out was even higher than the 34% recorded in the previous regional elections four years ago.

One third of seats in the Czech parliament’s upper chamber, the Senate, were also contested, with 37% of voters arriving for the first round. The final round is scheduled in one week.

“I would like to thank all my fellow citizens. It is amazing that they were not afraid and they voted,” Babis said.

Support for his party in opinion polls had ticked lower amid criticism over his perceived reluctance to bring back tough measures to fight the pandemic and over other policy inconsistencies hurting public trust.

Earlier this week, the government called a state of emergency from Oct. 5 and imposed measures including limiting gatherings and banning musicals and operas to curb the coronavirus before it overwhelms the health system.

The Czech Republic’s spike in virus cases was the second-largest in Europe in September when adjusted for population, with more than 40,000 cases logged during the month.

Thousands of Czechs used the possibility to cast their votes at drive-in polling stations earlier in the week as they were either infected by the coronavirus or in quarantine.

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