Coalition leaders clash over selection of new police chief

Petr Lessy, photo: CTK

Tension in the Czech coalition government has mounted over the selection of the new police chief. A committee convened by Interior Minister Radek John on Wednesday picked a candidate for the post. But Prime Minister Petr Nečas promptly dismissed the selection process amid concerns over its transparency, adding more fuel to what has been described as a “cold war” within the coalition cabinet.

Petr Lessy,  photo: CTK
Interior Minister Radek John announced on Wednesday that his board of experts had recommended deputy head of the south Moravian force, Petr Lessy as the best candidate for the chief of police.

He was picked out of 11 candidates who applied for the job after the previous police chief was forced to step down at the end of December, under pressure from Mr John’s party, Public Affairs. What followed was a battle between Public Affairs and the senior coalition Civic Democrats for control of the post, crucial for the government’s self-declared anti-corruption drive.

In line with a prior agreement within the coalition, the choice had to be approved by Prime Minister, and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas. But Mr John, who was in a hurry to catch a plane for an EU interior ministers meeting in Hungary later on Wednesday, only sent a text message to the prime minister. When asked whether he would appoint Mr Lessy without Mr Nečas’ consent, Radek John was confident.

Radek John,  photo: CTK
“I wouldn’t like to make waves right now. I really cannot see how anyone could have any objections to this transparent choice. It took the team of experts several hours to select the best candidate, so I’ll leave these speculations aside so that we don’t get into an argument within the coalition.”

But the tension between Mr Nečas’ Civic Democrats and the junior coalition Public Affairs party, headed by Mr John, has been growing ever since the parties clashed over a corruption scandal at the environment ministry in December.

On Wednesday, it only took the angry prime minister a few hours before he put the whole selection procedure into question.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
“My doubts regarding the selection procedure of the new police chief persist, particularly as concerns its compliance with the law. It’s not true that legislation experts would clear the procedure. There are persisting doubts about the transparency of the whole procedure, as well as about the selection board in which subordinates of the future police chief are paradoxically choosing their own boss.”

Mr Nečas said he was not prepared to make a final decision before it was clear the selection process was legal, and before he had discussed the issue with the interior minister Radek John in person. That won’t happen until Friday, when Mr John is due to return from his EU trip.