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Czech PM Andrej Babis loses close election amid Pandora Papers scandal

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks at a press conference during an election event held by his ANO party Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks at a press conference during an election event held by his ANO party Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE

Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The Czech Republic's billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis appeared to have lost his grip on power in Saturday's election amid Pandora Papers scandal.

His ruling populist party failed to win a majority over the two opposition alliances in a close election according to preliminary results, which means they can join forces to form a government and force him out of office, The Washington Post and CNN reported.

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The tycoon and ally of Hungary's far-right leader Viktor Orban was edged out by the center-right alliance Spolu with 27.7% of the ballots with 99.8% of the votes counted. Babis' ANO party had 27.2% of the votes and the centrist PirStan coalition had 15.5%.

"We are the change," Spolu coalition leader Petr Fiala said Saturday while claiming the election victory before a cheering crowd, CNN reported.

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The leader of the PirStan coalition, Ivan Bartos, added that talks with Spolu "on the possibilities of forming a new government" were likely to begin later Saturday.

Analysts said Babis lost votes due to the Pandora Papers investigative report, exposing leaders who exploit offshore tax havens. The report disclosed less than a week ago that Babis allegedly spent $22 million on shell companies to purchase a French chateau in 2009.

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"He definitely lost some votes because of this scandal," Jiri Pehe, director of New York University Prague, told the Post. "I think the opposition alliances will be very united in their efforts to force Babis out."

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The Investigative Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the Pandora Papers on Sunday. They also accused Jordan's King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of using offshore companies to purchase beachfront property in Malibu, Calif., and disclosed that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair bought a British Virgin Islands offshore company to avoid paying hundreds of thousands in property taxes.

Still, Czech President Milos Zeman has previously indicated he may appoint Babis without a parliamentary majority.

"In the next days, weeks, months, the key player will be president Zeman," Filip Kostelka, a political researcher at the University of Essex told the Post.

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Babis has previously been referred to as the Czech Republic's Donald Trump because of his business empire and right-wing populist leanings.

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