Cunek set for government “comeback”

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Five weeks ago Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek stepped down as deputy prime minister and minister for local development against the backdrop of an ongoing criminal investigation into alleged corruption. Five weeks later, Mr Cunek has been cleared and now his return to government seems imminent.

Jiri Cunek,  photo: CTK
Jiri Cunek has proven more than a little capable of weathering political storms, but when he resigned on November 1 in the face of continuing scandal, many thought they had seen the back of him. No more. Now, it appears, Mr Cunek is back. After adroitly hanging onto his post as Christian Democrat leader, weathering doubt from within, success may have now come full circle. On Tuesday the Christian Democratic Party voted to re-nominate Mr Cunek for the posts of deputy prime minister and minister for local development, paving the way for his return to cabinet. Christian Democrat deputy leader David Macek spoke to public broadcaster Czech TV:

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to re-nominate our chairman: he resigned when a certain criminal investigation was reopened, a case which has now been closed. The case concluded in Mr Cunek’s favour, so there was no reason not to nominate him back to government.”

The problem is that the controversy surrounding Mr Cunek doesn’t end there: the party leader is also under suspicion of having abused social welfare, a scandal which has certainly not helped him in the public eye. For that reason and perhaps others, such as Mr Cunek’s controversial stance on the Roma minority, some partners in the ruling coalition will be less than enthusiastic about a Cunek “return”. The head of the Green Party Martin Bursik on Tuesday:

Martin Bursik,  photo: CTK
“If anybody expects we are going to jump for joy or that it’s an agreeable solution, I don’t think they should. Trust in the government is a very important issue for us and we have a lot of difficult tasks ahead: from pension, healthcare, and continued ecological reforms, and for that we need a government that will be strong enough and will have support.”

Interior Minister Ivan Langer of the Civic Democrats took a similar view, also seeing the situation “as a problem”. He said Mr Cunek’s difficulties went beyond one case, and that matters were not only about him as an individual but about the government as a whole. That doesn’t mean Mr Cunek won’t succeed. The decision lies with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek who has already indicated he will respect the Christian Democrats’ motion. At the same time, the prime minister has stressed it would be better if another party member took the post of minister for local development for the interim.

Mr Topolanek also called the move by the Christian Democrats “hurried”; it seems theirs is a decision the prime minister probably wishes could wait. As one Czech daily noted in its headline on Wednesday, Mr Cunek will once again be a target for the opposition and many would probably stress an “easy target” at that.