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Ruling party loses Czech vote; Prime Minister Babis may be out

Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ centrist party on Saturday narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election, a surprise development that could mean the end of the populist billionaire’s reign in power.

The two-day election to fill 200 seats in the lower house of the Czech Republic’s parliament took place shortly after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported details of Babis’ overseas financial dealings in a project dubbed the “Pandora Papers.” Babis, 67, has denied wrongdoing.

With the votes from 99.7% of the ballot stations counted, the Czech Statistics Office said Together, a liberal-conservative three-party coalition, captured 27.7% of the vote, beating Babis’ Ano (Yes) party, which won 27.2%.

In another blow to the country’s populists, another center-left liberal coalition of the Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors, received 15.5% of the vote to finish third, the statistics office reported.

The two coalitions have enough support together to create a new government.

In the Pandora Papers investigation, the consortium alleged that the Babis put more than $20 million into shell companies to buy 16 properties in France. The Pandora Papers presented details of how many of the world’s richest and most powerful people allegedly hide their wealth from tax collectors.

Before the vote, the euroskeptic Babis led a minority coalition government of Ano and the Social Democrats in the Eastern European country, which is a member of both the European Union and NATO. He has also governed with the support of the maverick Communists.

During his aggressive campaign, Babis portrayed migration as a threat even though his country is not a typical destination for asylum-seekers and refugees. He also condemned the 27-member EU’s plan to tackle climate change.

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