Deputy PM facing mounting pressure to step down

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

It was clear from the moment he entered high politics that the former mayor of the town of Vsetin, Jiri Cunek, was a controversial politician. After he achieved nationwide notoriety for moving Roma rent defaulters from the centre of Vsetin, his political career accelerated. Riding on a wave of popularity, Jiri Cunek won a Senate seat and the chairmanship of his Christian Democratic Party; that eventually launched him to the posts of deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development in the coalition government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

Zdenek Horvath, photo: CTK
But the uncompromising attitude which first earned Jiri Cunek political success may now be coming back to haunt him. Facing charges of corruption as well as a lawsuit over his comments on the Roma, Jiri Cunek is proving a liability for the coalition government.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development Jiri Cunek is facing mounting criticism from all sides; from the opposition as well as the coalition Greens who are threatening to leave the cabinet and also from the Prime Minister himself. Moreover, he is facing a lawsuit by Roma rights activists over his recent offensive comments in the press. Romany organisations are calling on Jiri Cunek to step down and are planning to stage a protest outside the government headquarters on Wednesday. Zdenek Horvath of the Athinganoi civic association.

"We are outraged by Mr Cunek's statements and we hope that the government and other state officials are going to respond very quickly - considering how radical and unacceptable his comments were."

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
Nothing seems to ever throw Jiri Cunek off balance. He claims the corruption case against him has been fabricated. He maintains the statements he is being criticised for were not about Romanies as he never mentioned the word "Roma" in them. He even says he is perfectly willing to appear at Wednesday's demonstration against him.

"I would be very happy if there were people who want to ask questions so I could answer them. But, of course, if there are only people who will criticise me for things that never happened and things I never said and who are not willing to understand that one must work in order to earn money, then any discussion is difficult."

The cabinet - currently concerned primarily by public finance reforms - will discuss Jiri Cunek's case on Wednesday. Prior to that Jiri Cunek's remaining in government will be on the agenda of Tuesday's national conference of his Christian Democrats. They had earlier backed their leader and individual members of the leadership have told reporters they will not put pressure on him at Tuesday's meeting. Jiri Cunek himself says he does not expect his party colleagues to recommend that he step down; he also says if he is dismissed from government by PM Topolanek that would be a breach of the coalition agreement.