Analyst: “Bátora affair” just pretext for government crisis

Ladislav Bátora, photo: CTK

Ministers from the TOP 09 party made good on their promise on Wednesday and boycotted a cabinet meeting in protest of the continued presence of the controversial, highly-placed civil servant Ladislav Bátora at the Education Ministry. The party has slammed the official for past ties to the extremist National Party and for insults recently aimed at its leader, Karel Schwarzenberg, indicating things won’t return to normal until Mr Bátora is replaced. Some, however, argue that Mr Bátora is not the real issue at all, and that the scandal is being exploited by TOP 09 for its own political ends.

Ladislav Bátora, photo: CTK
Ladislav Bátora has become an increasing problem for the country’s centre-right government and a veritable thorn in the prime minister’s side. TOP 09 has argued that the official, who previously had ties to an extremist party, must be sacked or they would leave the coalition and have refused to attend cabinet meetings until the matter is resolved. But even now, no one has made a decisive move: Prime Minister Petr Nečas has failed to act and the result has been yet another embarrassing crisis for the centre-right government.

Earlier I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe who suggested that one of those most at fault in the current crisis was Mr Nečas himself.

“I think that the prime minister is one of the biggest problems in this whole crisis. I think that he is unable to resist the president and that he is very weak and unable and unwilling to step in when there is a government crisis. At this point, quite clearly, it would be logical for the prime minister to simply order the education minister to recall Mr Bátora from his post or also lose the job. But the prime minister knows that he would run into strong opposition from Prague Castle and that the president would probably not obey his request. So he is caught in between.”

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
Despite holding what some describe as quasi-fascist views, it is widely-known that Mr Bátora enjoys strong support from Prague Castle and that has left the prime minister’s hands tied unless he wants to meet head-on with the president who has proven himself time and time again a highly-skilled political opponent. But his unwillingness has left TOP 09 room to tighten the screws - apparently on principle - pushing for the prime minister to make a move at last or face an even bigger crisis: TOP 09 leaving the government.

The party’s leadership has made clear that the issue of Batora’s dismissal is not negotiable. The prime minister’s Civic Democrats, by contrast, have indirectly charged that the Bátora affair is merely an excuse for TOP 09 to escalate the crisis. The reason? Its members may be looking for a way out of government - one saddled with unpopular reforms and a highly-dysfunctional coalition partner, Public Affairs. Jiří Pehe says this may indeed be the case:

Václav Klaus, photo: archive of the Czech government
“I don’t think that the Bátora affair is the main reason for this government crisis, I think that it is just a pretext. It is basically an attempt to test how far this government can go and I think that TOP 09 is trying to see whether it wouldn’t be better off leaving the government and triggering early elections. The result would be the disappearance of its uncomfortable political partner Public Affairs. TOP 09 realises that with Public Affairs it can’t really implement reforms the way it wants and there is also increasing dissatisfaction with the Civic Democratic Party as well, which is a shadow of its former self. So it might be better for TOP 09 to trigger early elections and become the dominant party on the political right.”