Government racked by old-new crisis

Radek John, foto: ČTK
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The centre-right Czech government is once again on the brink of collapse. Just a month after the three parties shelved their differences in the interest of pushing through key reforms, hostilities have flared up anew with the junior coalition party setting down new demands and threatening to walk out of the government if they are not met.

Radek John, photo: CTK
After weeks of bickering that ended in a fragile ceasefire agreement, the Czech governing coalition has come round full circle – dogged by scandals and unresolved problems it is once again trying to find a modus vivendi which would enable the three centre-right parties to continue to rule the country.

The depth of the crisis revealed itself last week when Public Affairs leader and Deputy Prime Minister Radek John announced he was leaving the cabinet and slammed his coalition partners for failing to take the fight against corruption seriously and not bothering to consult the junior coalition party about planned reforms. After months of complaining that it was being pushed around by the two stronger parties in government, Public Affairs brought out the heavy caliber, reminding the prime minister that without them there would be no government.

“Our party is inexperienced, you could say we are a party of amateurs. And as political amateurs we made the mistake of believing that the agreements reached would be adhered to. We now want to make sure this is done – and if we are to remain in government we need to be in meaningful posts where we can deliver on our promises – if we are not, then there is no sense in our staying.”

Jiří Pospíšil
Political amateurs they may be, but Public Affairs is learning the rules of the game fast – demanding a re-write of the coalition agreement, the dismissal of three ministers from the other two parties and four ministerial posts for itself. Since Radek John has resigned on the government’s anti-corruption portfolio the party is eyeing the Justice Ministry – now headed by Civic Democrat Jiří Pospíšil –one of the most successful ministers in the Nečas cabinet, who sees no reason to leave his post.

Another seasoned politician whom Public Affairs would like to shoot down is Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek of TOP 09 - whom they claim should leave in connection with a dubious tender when he served as defense minister. Public Affairs argues that since they lost a key minister on the “presumption of guilt” principle the other two parties should sweep before their own doors as well.

Mr. Kalousek is having none of it – and following a meeting of the party leadership on Sunday TOP 09 put down some of its own conditions for Public Affairs to meet – stop rocking the boat, support the government’s reform bills and make public the details of its financing following yet another secret recording that suggests that despite its fiery rhetoric on the subject Public Affairs has its own financing skeletons in the cupboard.

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
“Public Affairs is a party that has built its policy programme on the fight against corruption and now that its own members have cast doubt on the party’s financing we think it is in the vested interest of that party to prove its financing is as crystal clear as well water”.

While all three parties realize that their only hope of completing their four year term in office is to stick together –feathers are expected to fly at this week’s coalition talks as each party will fight to defend its turf. One thing is clear even now – their mutual relations are at freezing point and even if another compromise agreement is reached the government’s viability would be highly questionable. As one commentator put it, only a fool would now put his money on the Czech government’s future.