Alarm as anti-cronyism party says will replace police chief with ‘one of our own people’

Radek John, photo: CTK

The centre-right government hasn’t even been appointed yet but already trouble seems to be brewing over personnel changes at the head of the Czech police force. Radek John, leader of the Public Affairs party, conceded in a television interview this weekend that he may replace the police chief with what he called ‘one of our own people’. The remarks have caused alarm amongst politicians and criticism from the media.

Radek John,  photo: CTK
Public Affairs were swept into parliament on a platform of radical new measures to fight high-level corruption and cronyism, perceived as endemic in the Czech Republic. So there was some dismay this weekend after the party’s leader Radek John said on Czech TV’s flagship political discussion programme 'Otázky Václava Moravce' that his initial decisions as interior minister will likely include replacing police chief Oldřich Martinů with ‘one of our own people’.

Mr John, a TV journalist who entered politics only recently, quickly explained that ‘by one of our own people’, he meant a Public Affairs member or an independent expert, but for Daniel Kaiser, a commentator for Lidové Noviny newspaper, the damage was done.

“Radek John has removed the head of the Czech police even before he got into the ministry. He talks freely about putting his own people – people from his own party – into positions of power, which is something that no-one in the past has dared.”

Mr John was surrounded by reporters after the show and asked to clarify the comments, which he did – saying that he’d been pushed into making them, and no personnel changes would be made until a thorough analysis had been carried out. It seems almost certain, however, that there will be changes at the top of the police force. Jiří Pehe, who served as a senior political advisor to President Václav Havel, says this is a sign of the lack of maturity of Czech democracy.

“It is a habit in Czech politics that new ministers replace top civil servants, and it’s also partly because the Czech Republic really doesn’t have a good law on the civil service that would conform to EU standards. It promised such a law before its accession to the EU but then the law was suspended and never went into effect. So we are still in a situation in which the state administration is heavily politicised and ministers tend to replace a lot of people once they get into their seats.”

Daniel Kaiser described Mr John’s comments as Public Affairs’ ‘first big mistake’; Jiří Pehe believes the party and Mr John are so unpredictable the centre-right coalition could fall apart long before its four-year mandate is up. The much-vaunted ‘stability’ of the new centre-right government could be held hostage, he says, by the unreadable nature of its two smaller coalition allies.