Divisive Ondráček set for swift exit as committee chair after ANO U-turn

Zdeněk Ondráček, photo: CTK

On Friday Zdeněk Ondráček was elected chairman of the lower house committee that oversees the agency that investigates police malpractice. The move sparked plans for street demonstrations due to Mr. Ondráček’s past as a pre-1989 riot policeman. Now, however, ANO, who helped the Communist win the post, are set to remove him.

Zdeněk Ondráček,  photo: CTK
Czech MPs voted on Friday to make Zdeněk Ondráček head of the lower house committee that oversees the General Inspectorate of the Security Services. It is the agency tasked with investigating police wrongdoing.

After a number of attempts, the Communist MP won the post in a secret ballot with the believed backing of some deputies from ANO, Freedom and Direct Democracy and his own party.

Mr. Ondráček is unrepentant about his past as a riot squad officer who beat protestors prior to the Velvet Revolution. However, critics say this makes him totally unsuitable for the committee chairmanship.

Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková of the Civic Democrats was a defeated candidate for the post.

“The complete independence that this committee requires is being lost. Because the person who heads it will be investigating cases that involve his former colleagues. I think that is a conflict of interest – of which I think we have had enough in recent times.”

The ANO minister of justice, Robert Pelikán, said he was considering resigning over Mr. Ondráček’s election.

Opponents saw it as a move by ANO to please the Communists, whose backing they may require to form a new government.

Opposition quickly spread beyond party politics, with demonstrations called for 11 cities and towns on Monday evening. Tens of thousands have declared interest on Facebook in one planned for Prague.

The matter stayed in the headlines on Sunday, with Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip questioning the democratic credentials of those planning to attend the protests.

Vojtěch Filip,  photo: Luboš Vedral
However, the whole story took a major about-turn on Sunday evening, when ANO leader Andrej Babiš came out against Mr. Ondráček’s appointment, saying he would push to have him removed.

Mr. Babiš said this was consistent with previous statements he had made.

Critics said, however, that ANO MPs would not have voted for Mr. Ondráček’s election without Mr. Babiš’s orders, charging that he had made a U-turn in response to the public mood.

For his part Communist leader Filip continues to back his party’s man.

“Everybody can form their own opinion. If somebody approves something and then takes fright and starts voting differently, it’s his own thing. I believe our candidate has what it takes for the position because he served in the Czech police.”

However, Andrej Babiš’s stance means that Zdeněk Ondráček’s time in the post looks set to be very short indeed.