“Invisible man” sworn is as new justice minister

Pavel Blažek, photo: CTK

New Justice Minister Pavel Blažek was sworn in by President Klaus on Tuesday at 10am in a ceremony at Prague Castle also attended by Prime Minister Petr Nečas. The relationship between Blažek and fellow Civic Democrat Nečas, and the ability of the former to carry out his job independently will undoubtedly be at the heart of assessments of the new justice minister’s performance.

Pavel Blažek,  Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
“I subscribe to what theories of modern democracy call constitutional liberalism. That means in the first place, across the spectrum of the state, placing the rights of the individual and their protection, albeit tied to certain legal norms which must be respected. And also adhering to what for two hundred years legal theory has described as the strict separation of powers.”

Lofty words there from new Justice Minister Pavel Blažek spoken to President Klaus on the occasion of his swearing in on Tuesday morning. But a litany of complex challenges awaits the new justice minister. The 43-year-old Brno lawyer has served his Civic Democratic Party for several years, climbing up the ranks from city councillor to vice-chairman of the party. But despite rising to the inner circles of power within ODS, some even within his own party, have dubbed him the “invisible man” for his low profile and hitherto shunning of the media spotlight.

Jiří Pospíšil,  photo: CTK
But now, all eyes are on Blažek as he takes over from his predecessor at the ministry Jiří Pospíšil, who was controversially sacked from his post by the PM at the end of June. The move even led to rare demonstrations by around 600 students and other Czechs opposing the ouster of a popular figure in the cabinet. Critics of the decision charged that the powers-that-be were frightened by the possibility that Pospíšil was preparing to accede to a recommendation by the Supreme State Attorney and appoint Lenka Bradáčová as Prague High State Attorney, a key position in terms of tackling crime and corruption in the Czech Republic. The PM has vigorously denied this and claimed that managerial matters were in fact behind the dismissal.

Bradáčová, a scrupulously honest attorney who has proved relentless in her anti-corruption crusade, would replace Vlastimil Rampula who earned a nickname in the Czech media as a man who “swept” crucial corruption cases, often involving shady government tenders, under the rug.

Lenka Bradáčová
Thus, all eyes will be on Blažek for one crucial decision that many believe will understate whether he will function as a stooge of a Civic Democrat party clique and not appoint Bradáčová as his predecessor intended to, or perhaps upset those behind his appointment to the post and carry out the appointment anyway. In a recent interview with Mladá Fronta Dnes, Blažek insisted that there has been no pressure from Nečas or from any Civic Democrats to go with someone else. In a recent interview with Czech Television, Senate president and fellow Civic Democrat Přemysl Sobotka praised the pick:

“He is a very good politician and an expert in his field, so I believe that he will manage to run the ministry without any problems.”

However, Social Democrat senator Jiří Dienstbier expressed concerns being echoed by many.

“We will see if he comes in to the position merely as an ambassador of those circles who are seeking to block reforms in our justice system.”

But other challenges are faced by the Justice Ministry too. While PM Nečas continues to emphasize austerity and cutbacks, former minister Pospíšil had sought an increase in his ministry’s budget of one billion crowns in order to help tackle chronic overcrowding in Czech prisons, currently running at around 24,000 people.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
In an interview with Czech Television, MP Stanislav Polčák, a member of TOP 09’s (a member of the current government coalition) Constitutional Legislative Council, suggested that savings could be found:

“It may sound somewhat paradoxical, but it may be possible to find large savings in the prison service because the Czech Republic really has a large number of people behind bars. I think the overall prison system needs to be very closely looked at. Also, reforms to fully computerize the justice system are also crucial, as today it remains far too bureaucratic and based too much on filling out forms rather than looking for justice.”

The ensuing battles over just which path forward the justice ministry will take, will undoubtedly determine whether Blažek’s is viewed as a success or failure.