Government crisis over as president accepts new nominee for culture minister

Lubomír Zaorálek

After months of deadlock surrounding the president’s unwillingness to name the Social Democrat nominee for culture minister, party chairman Jan Hamáček announced their second choice for the office is Lubomír Zaorálek. The proposal has since been welcomed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and by President Miloš Zeman, who has said he will name Mr. Zaorálek culture minister on Tuesday.

Lubomír Zaorálek

The Ministry of Culture is likely to get a new leader after nearly a month with no one in charge.

On Thursday, following three months of government crisis during which President Miloš Zeman was at first unwilling to accept the resignation of then Culture Minister Antonín Staňek and subsequently refused to name his proposed replacement Michal Šmarda into office, the Social Democrats announced their new nominee is Lubomír Zaorálek.

Jan Hamáček,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio
Speaking at a press briefing in Prague, Social Democrats chairman Jan Hamáček explained the party’s choice.

“Lubomír Zaorálek is an experienced politician. He was a successful speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and a successful minister of foreign affairs. I am convinced that he will be able to manage the culture portfolio. His task will be to stabilise the Culture Ministry after a long period when it was unclear in which direction it was headed.”

It seems that this time, the Social Democrat nominee will be successful. Soon after the announcement, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he has no problem with the choice and neither does the head of state, according to the president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček.

“The president agrees with the proposal to nominate Lubomír Zaorálek as minister of culture.”

Mr. Ovčáček also tweeted that the president will meet with Mr. Zaorálek on Monday afternoon, and appoint him to office the following day.

Only last week, the situation, which the Social Democrat chairman said was bordering on a constitutional crisis, seemed likely to either drag on or lead to the fall of the government.

Michal Šmarda,  photo: Czech Television
The Social Democrats had repeatedly threatened walk out if their nominee was not selected for office.

However, on Monday Mr. Šmarda himself said that he was renouncing his nomination after the prime minister, who had originally proposed him as a replacement in May, said that he did not want him in the cabinet.

Speaking after the announcement Lubomír Zaorálek explained his own reasons why he accepted the culture minister portfolio.

“I think it was impossible to go on like this and I also do not like that we are slowly heading towards a presidential system. I feel it was necessary to do anything in order to solve this problem.”

He said that he had yet to prepare a detailed plan on his actions as culture minister, but that they may include revising some of Mr. Staňek controversial decisions.

Most of the culture sector representatives contacted by Czech Radio were hopeful about Mr. Zaorálek’s nomination, with some highlighting it is necessary to start enacting systemic changes within the ministry.