Issue of Jiří Čunek’s return to cabinet remains unresolved

Jiří Čunek, photo: CTK

Leaders of the country’s ruling coalition met on Wednesday to discuss upcoming tasks and priorities. The one important issue which was pointedly avoided was the possible return by Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek to the government. Mr Čunek stepped down last year as deputy prime minister and minister for regional affairs over charges of alleged bribe-taking, but was later cleared. His party is now pushing for his reinstatement, but some members of the government – including the Greens – remain opposed. Mr Čunek’s possible return threatens the stability of the governing coalition and will need to be resolved soon.

Jiří Čunek,  photo: CTK
In recent weeks it appeared Jiří Čunek’s return to the cabinet was all but imminent: representatives from his party repeatedly ratcheted up the pressure and the prime minister himself made clear he would re-nominate Mr Čunek once the smaller parties’ (the Greens and the Christian Democrats) differences were resolved. But that hasn’t happened. Despite earlier suggestions the problem would be discussed this week, the subject of Mr Čunek’s return was not broached on Wednesday in a meeting of coalition leaders, leaving new doubts over his future. Seemingly no one wants a renewal of conflict within the coalition just a month after the presidential election. But it is also obvious the issue of Mr Čunek’s return won’t just go away. Political analyst Petr Just:

“It is definitely a big problem. We have heard several times that Mr Čunek was returning the next day, next week and so on and then nothing happened. Already this situation shows that the problem is a major one, not only for some Greens but even some Civic Democrats who aren’t supporting Mr Čunek’s return. There is a small group within the ruling Civic Democratic Party, led by deputy leader Pavel Bém, which doesn’t support Mr Čunek’s return. This then supports the position of the Greens who do not think it is a good idea either.”

As if to highlight the problem, Mr Čunek is mentioned by name in the US State Department’s annual Human Rights report for 2007 just released on Wednesday. It mentions the Christian Democrat in connection not only to his corruption case but also his former role as mayor in the controversial eviction of rent-defaulting Romanies in the town of Vsetín.

Mirek Topolánek and  Jiří Čunek,  photo: CTK
Mr Čunek defended his position by pointing to a mistake in the report, saying his case was dropped for lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, not for “insufficient” evidence. On the other hand, the mention of his handling of the Roma (something for which the Czech Republic itself is heavily criticised by the US) seems to go to the heart of the matter; simply put, for some in the government Mr Čunek now has just too many strikes against him. For now, neither side – the Christian Democrats nor the Greens are budging – but pressure is presumably rising for the prime minister himself to step in. Until now Mirek Topolánek has avoided making a decision on the issue himself, but as many analysts have pointed out, it is the prime minister and the prime minister alone who bears responsibility for the makeup of the government. It will ultimately fall to the the prime minister to resolve the matter.