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  • Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session before a confidence vote for the newly appointed government he leads, in Prague, Czech Republic Jul. 11, 2018.

    Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session before a confidence vote for the newly appointed government he leads, in Prague, Czech Republic Jul. 11, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 January 2019

The bill is set for a tough ride in the upper house and some lawmakers have said they plan to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

The Czech parliament's lower house voted Wednesday to tax churches on payments received for property confiscated during the Communist era, meeting a key demand of the Communist Party that props up the center-left minority government.

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Lawmakers from the ANO (Yes, in Czech) party of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, as well as junior coalition partner the Social Democrats, joined the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) and far-right SPD party to vote for the bill, which passed with 106 votes in favor in the 200-seat chamber.

The payments, mainly to the Catholic Church, began in 2013 and amount to 2 billion koruna ($89 million) per year over 30 years.

They cover church property confiscated by the Soviet communists in the mid-20th century that the state was unable to return under a 2012 restitution law, because ownership may have changed in the meantime.

The bill is set for a tough ride in the upper house and some lawmakers have said they plan to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

Under the compensation deal, church authorities, whose influence over Czech society is waning, also face gradual cutbacks in government contributions toward clerical salaries and other expenditures.

Believers are a minority in the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member state of 10.6 million people, where 8.6 million people identified as non-believers or have left religion according to a 2011 census.

The KSCM maintains close relations with China, North Korea and Cuba, and has resisted the tendency of other European communist parties to move toward mainstream social democracy.

Politically marginalized in the immediate years following the fall of the Soviet Union, it has steadily increased its influence in recent years. It enjoyed some success in the 2012 regional elections, winning in the coal-producing region of Usti nad Labem, and was able to govern in coalition in several others.

The Party has its strongest support base in rural regions and small towns and cities hit hard by the deindustrialization that occurred in the 1990s.

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