Czech president Milos Zeman was rushed to hospital the day after the country held parliamentary elections in which populist prime minister Andrej Babis’ party came a surprise second and Mr Zeman plays a key role in establishing a new government.
The Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial post but the president has the right to choose which political leader can try to form the next government.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Zeman, 77, had met with Mr Babis, his close ally, but the prime minister made no comment as he left the presidential chateau in Lany, near Prague.
On Saturday, the centrist ANO (Yes) party led by Mr Babis, a populist billionaire, narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s election, which could spell the end of the Eurosceptic leader’s reign in the European Union nation of 10.7 million people.
A liberal-conservative three-party coalition named Together captured 27.8% of the vote, beating Mr Babis’ ANO, which won 27.1%. In a second blow to the populists, another centre-left liberal coalition received 15.6% of the vote to finish third.
The winning coalition won 71 seats while its third-place partner took 37 seats to secure a comfortable majority of 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament, and they pledged to work together.
Mr Babis won 72 seats, six less than in the 2017 election.
But Mr Zeman had earlier indicated that he would first appoint the leader of the strongest party, not the strongest coalition, to try to form the government, which would be Mr Babis.
This would give Mr Babis the opportunity to try and find a majority for his possible new government.
Petr Fiala, the leader of Together and its candidate for prime minister, urged Mr Zeman to accept the election results.
He said: “The opposition has gained a clear majority in the lower house. The constitution clearly says that a government needs support of a majority.
“We’ll see what steps President Zeman is to take but it’s essential that he cannot ignore that.”
In his only post-election comment, Mr Zeman congratulated the election winner and all elected members.
If Mr Zeman is not able to act due to his illness, or other reasons, the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament will take over his presidential powers.
The new speaker of the lower house is the one to select the premier in this scenario.
The parliament has to meet within 30 days from the election to select the speaker and other officials.
Prague’s military hospital confirmed that Mr Zeman was taken there on Sunday.
Mr Zeman is a heavy smoker who has suffered from diabetes. He has trouble walking and has been using a wheelchair.
“The reason for his hospitalisation are the complications that accompany the chronic disease for which we treat him here,” Dr Miroslav Zavoral, the clinic’s director, said.
The president was previously admitted on September 14 for what his office later described as a planned examination.
The office said the president was dehydrated and slightly exhausted and he was released after eight days, his longest hospital stay.
He spent four days in the same hospital in 2019 for similar reasons.