Despite pressure beleaguered Deputy PM Cunek stays in government

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Despite sustained pressure, beleaguered deputy prime minister Jiri Cunek appears set to remain in the Czech government. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek had said an investigation into alleged bribe-taking made his position untenable, while Environment Minister Martin Bursik made a direct call for Mr Cunek to resign. But after a meeting with both men Jiri Cunek's position in government looks secure - for now at least.

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
According to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Jiri Cunek believes leaving the government would be an admission of guilt. At a news conference on Wednesday, he said under no circumstances would Mr Cunek quit and he wouldn't force him. He also said he had come over to Mr Cunek's side partly due to what he described as media hounding.

This statement represented quite a u-turn. Earlier in the week the prime minister had told a daily that the Christian Democrat leader's presence in cabinet was harming the whole government and the situation was untenable.

Police are investigating whether Mr Cunek took bribes while he was mayor of the Moravian town of Vsetin.

Mr Topolanek's tough stance changed after a hush-hush late night meeting on Tuesday between the Civic Democrat's boss, Mr Cunek and the head of the other party in the coalition, the Greens' Martin Bursik. The latter has been taking a hard line, directly calling on the deputy prime minister to go.

The Greens' leader said Mr Cunek regarded remaining in government as a question of guilt or innocence. He said the PM inclined to his view and his party had not choice but to accept it - for now.

However, other senior members of the Green Party say they are unwilling to accept Jiri Cunek's continued presence in cabinet; they could yet force further debate on the issue.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
In the meantime, Mr Cunek continues to grin to the cameras and assert that bribe-taking allegations against him are untrue.

He told reporters Tuesday he had done nothing of the sort and said he was sure the case would come to a close soon, adding that it was a matter for the criminal justice system, not politics.

So Mr Cunek lives to fight another day. However it was reported this week that police had widened their investigation to take in all major decisions made at Vsetin town hall when he was in charge. And he also appears to have lost some support within his own Christian Democrats. Jiri Cunek is not out of the fire yet.