Cabinet minister resigns after two weeks in office

Helena Trestikova, photo: CTK

Just two weeks after it was appointed- and a mere five days after winning a confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament - the country's new centre-right government has run into serious problems. On Wednesday Culture Minister Helena Trestikova unexpectedly resigned and Regional Development Minister Jiri Cunek may be stripped of his immunity on suspicion of having accepted a bribe.

Helena Trestikova,  photo: CTK
The new cabinet has barely had time to get to work and already scandals surrounding two of its ministers are splashed across the front pages. On Wednesday culture minister Helena Trestikova handed in her resignation because of "political pressure" by the prime minister over the appointment of a deputy minister she did not want. To make matters worse, the prime minister's protégé is alleged to have been the lobbyist who is credited with having convinced two Social Democrat deputies to tolerate the centre right government. Mrs. Trestikova, a well-known documentary filmmaker, handed in her resignation and disappeared without so much as a press conference. The prime minister, besieged by newsmen to explain the matter, merely said he was sorry to see her go. Political analyst Petr Just says that while the scandal may give the opposition a stick to beat the prime minister with - such deals are not unusual in politics.

"Generally, giving political posts or posts in state administration to people who somehow helped the government is a widespread practice. In politics where you need to negotiate and where forming a coalition is some kind of game it is quite natural that you award people who worked for you by giving them lucrative posts. So, on the one hand - I understand the public's disappointment or possible disappointment over this case - but on the other hand this is a widespread practice in politics and the Czech Republic is no exception."

Don't you think it was a risky move from the prime minister -or whoever was negotiating on his behalf - to push so hard when she had already threatened to resign last week because of the pressure?

"It was risky. It is always risky especially when the people who are supposed to hold those posts are not quite - let us say clean - or if there is some suspicion regarding their previous activities, behavior and so on. However, as I said it is a game - it is a political game and each actor plays so as to maximize his position and try to influence the final picture as much as possible."

Jiri Cunek,  photo: CTK
Although the scandal around the culture minister's resignation will probably soon blow over, the case of Regional Development Minister Jiri Cunek looks far more serious. The police claim they have evidence that Mr. Cunek accepted a half a million crown bribe when he was still in regional politics two years ago. Unfortunately, Mr. Cunek himself has not been very convincing in explaining the origin of the money - he first told the media that it was family savings, but later changed his story for the police saying he couldn't remember where the money came from.

The premise "innocent until proven guilty" is not acceptable in high politics and although the prime minister has not yet moved to replace Mr. Cunek the opposition is very vocal in calling for the minister's resignation. Political analyst Petr Just says that, in one way or another, the government will have to pay the price.

"These two problems will definitely weaken the government, and we have to keep in mind that the government in itself is weak, so any instability, any kind of problems -even small problems - will rock the boat and lead to further instability. This is the kind of situation that Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek and the opposition in general welcome because the weaker the government - the stronger the opposition."