Čunek announces cabinet resignation after counter-attack backfires

Jiří Čunek, photo: CTK

The head of the Christian Democrats Jiří Čunek announced his resignation from his cabinet posts of regional development minister and deputy prime minister on Monday, a surprise announcement and one that’s being interpreted as a victory for Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. The announcement paves the way for a long-promised cabinet reshuffle, but more importantly removes a controversial figure who has been seen to damage the government’s credibility.

Jiří Čunek,  photo: CTK
Jiří Čunek was appointed to the cabinet in January 2007, but resigned from his two posts the following November, after he failed to explain a number of corruption allegations against him. He returned to the cabinet in April 2008, but again steps down, reluctantly, after just 10 months, under pressure from both the prime minister and his own party.

He told reporters he was resigning to protect his party, explaining that party in-fighting was damaging the Christian Democrats’ image. While he could win his battle and stay on, he said, ultimately his party would lose.

Jiří Čunek leaves the government after making something of a disastrous political mistake. When Prime Minister Topolánek announced plans to reshuffle the cabinet, Jiří Čunek was on the list of names he wanted removed. Mr Čunek decided the best means of defence was attack, and said it was not he who should go, but the popular Finance Minister Miloslav Kalousek, who, unlike Mr Čunek, is seen as a very competent minister and very close to the prime minister.

This strategy backfired terribly. The Christian Democrats were forced to take back the proposal, and the public was later treated to the sight of Mr Kalousek publicly accusing Jiří Čunek of lying at a televised press conference during a party meeting at the weekend. It became clear that Mr Čunek is barely in control of his party, and certainly doesn’t have the political support to dictate who stays and who leaves the cabinet. He is now in the embarrassing position of having to announce – as head of the Christian Democrats – the end of his own ministerial career. For now at least, because Mr Čunek has already proved he has an incredible survival instinct.

The Christian Democrats say that Vlasta Parkanová, who is currently defence minister, should become deputy prime minister as well, while Cyril Svoboda – head of the government's legislative council, should take the regional development post. Prime Minister Topolánek has welcomed the suggestions, and will announce the reshuffle in the next few days – we still need to hear about the changes in his own party. But the biggest obstacle – getting rid of Jiří Čunek – has been overcome.