Health Minister Rath stirring up Czech politics with no holds barred approach

Health Minister David Rath, photo: CTK

Since his appointment just five weeks ago, Health Minister David Rath has been at the centre of one controversy after another. After putting the state health insurer under forced administration he accused several opposition Civic Democrats of stripping its assets. In response they have filed a number of libel suits against the minister, who they say has himself been involved in dubious deals. I discussed the explosive impact of Mr Rath on Czech politics with commentator Erik Best.

Health Minister David Rath, photo: CTK
"I think he's using the techniques on the one hand of President Klaus, meaning he's using a kind of arrogant behaviour, putting people down, attacking them. On the other hand, he's using the techniques of Milos Zeman, the former prime minister who did that very well too, but with a much more negative vocabulary than the one Klaus ever used.

"Rath likes to call people 'cranky old men' and other things that are simply not normal in politics. He's certainly brought some new blood to politics but at the same time it's a behaviour that is unusual for Czechs and something they're not really keen on. And it means he has created a lot of enemies. So if he ever has a real problem a lot of people will be happy to see him go."

Mr Rath will be up against the head of the Civic Democrats in the Prague constituency in elections next June....How do you think they have reacted to him so far? He's come out all guns blazing, accusing them of all kinds of corruption...

"They've made the mistake of not taking one line about his behaviour and sticking with it. They come out one time and say that the action he's taken at the health insurance company is illegal. Then they forget about it.

"If it was illegal they should be repeating it every day and they should explain why, and they should find a state prosecutor who agrees with this and charges should be filed.

"Instead they have come out and made accusations that they have not substantiated and it's actually made them look more as though they are doing the things that he's accusing them of. So in that respect their reaction has almost been self-incriminatory."

David Rath is the 12th Czech health minister since 1989. [The post] is the poisoned chalice of Czech politics - do you think he'll be around for a long time?

"If the Social Democrats win the elections he certainly has a very good chance of remaining as the health minister.

"And I think the key to his success and perhaps the success of the Social Democratic election effort in general is to at least give the impression of clearing out some of the corruption, some of the cliques that exist in, say, the health insurance company, at the Health Ministry, in the drug categorisation committee where they make decisions about vast amounts of money.

"If David Rath can give the impression of making some progress there then I think that will have a very positive effect on voters."