Centre-right coalition government weathers first serious crisis

Photo: CTK

The centre-right coalition government weathered its first serious crisis on Tuesday surviving a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition in the wake of a massive corruption scandal at the Environment Ministry. Although the ruling parties opposed the no-confidence motion as one man, the scandal has further undermined coalition unity and tarnished the image of a government that has upheld a strict anti-corruption stance.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
It was touch and go for the Czech coalition government on Tuesday. The scandal involving allegations of manipulation with public tenders left many government officials with egg on their face –including the prime minister who has come under fire for failing to act when he was alerted to the problem.

Outraged by the idea that the Civic Democrats may have been planning to use public funds to feather their own nest, the junior coalition party Public Affairs threatened to withhold support for the government, keeping the coalition on tenterhooks until President Klaus stepped into the breach, calling emergency consultations to ensure the government’s survival. The secret deal reached at Prague Castle did the trick – the no-confidence motion was rejected by all coalition deputies– and Prime Minister Petr Nečas expressed his gratitude to the president for helping to break the deadlock.

“I perceive the president’s input as wholly positive. In a parliamentary democracy ruled by coalition governments I think his role as mediator in times of crisis is perfectly natural. I am glad we were able to reach agreement and consider it vitally important that the outcome of this crisis will not present a threat to the country’s economic and financial stability.”

Radek John, photo: CTK
Despite the prime ministers “back to the drawing board” attitude, the mood after Tuesday’s vote was far from upbeat. Radek John, head of Public Affairs, which won 24 seats in the lower house on a strong anti-corruption agenda, admitted that the decision to support the cabinet had been painful and could cost the party dear.

“The time has come for the government to deliver on its promises. We need to regain public trust and in order to do that we have to convince people that we are taking the fight against corruption seriously.“

Wednesday’s resignation of police president Oldřich Martinů indicates that Public Affairs pushed through its demand for his removal and the cabinet should soon meet to debate other steps within the government’s anti-corruption strategy.

However many questions remain unanswered –such as were Civic Democratic Party members really planning to feather their own nest from the State Environmental Fund and was the police president a puppet of the Civic Democratic Party.

The opposition Social Democrats say another huge scandal has been swept under the carpet and blame primarily Public Affairs for selling out its principles. Bohuslav Sobotka is the party’s acting chairman:

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK
“I would expect a party which based its very existence on the need to root out corruption to take a clear stand in this matter. I also think it very strange that in the course of the 5 hour debate in Parliament the prime minister did not once distance himself from the public officials who are implicated in this corruption affair at the State Environmental Fund.”

As a police investigation gets underway, the Czech government will also have to answer to the European Commission which has asked to be informed about how the government intends to handle the affair. With vast amounts of EU money flowing into the suspect Environmental Fund the commission is planning to send over a team of inspectors in January to check out financing at the fund in person.