Jiri Cunek still in office, but for how long?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek has become the "enfant terrible" of Czech politics. Accused of corruption and in hot water over offensive remarks made about the Roma minority, the Regional Development Minister refuses to leave his government posts, insisting that he has done nothing wrong. His coalition partners think otherwise - but there's one question they can't agree on - who should be the one to make him leave?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
The embarrassing problem of what's to be done about the controversial deputy prime minister is being tossed around like a hot potato. On Tuesday both the Civic Democrats - or ODS - and the Green Party tossed the ball into the Christian Democrats' court indicating that Mr. Cunek's resignation from government posts would be appreciated. On Wednesday the Christian Democrats tossed it right back, refusing to force Mr. Cunek's hand. Political analyst Jan Urban says that things have come to a head and the situation will need to be resolved soon.

"The whole governing coalition is now looking for a face-saving formula that would allow Mr. Cunek to leave with some dignity and not to be thrown out. He hasn't shown too much success as a minister and that's the main problem for the coalition because he is chairing one of the most important ministries that is dealing with EU funding. I think that we have to be patient and the pressure from the Green Party and increasing pressure from the strongest government party -the ODS - will sooner or later result in Cunek's resignation."

The dismissal of a deputy prime minister and party leader is a very sensitive one - especially when the governing coalition has an extremely fragile majority in Parliament. Unwilling to rock the boat, the prime minister was clearly hoping that the Christian Democrats themselves would find a solution to it at their Wednesday conference. However many party members voted with their feet - leaving the assembly hall so as not to have to take a stand on the issue. So why are the Christian Democrats loathe to take action? Jan Urban again:

"They have enough people who could replace Mr. Cunek but each of the factions in play is just balancing the others and none of them wishes Mr.Cunek to leave because then they might start to fight among themselves for more influence. And the main thing they want is stability right now."

Are they not playing with fire here? Mr. Cunek is receiving increasing support from ultra-right parties. Is this not a dangerous signal?

"The party believes that they will be able to control him. Once this storm is over -they say- we will be able to maneuver Cunek into phrasing his opinions in a more civilized way. It is definitely playing with fire."

Jiri Cunek has two vocal opponents within his own party - MEP Jan Brezina and parliament deputy Pavel Severa. After Wednesday's party conference Mr. Severa toned down his statements to the press saying "I have been asked to be patient - things are allegedly being resolved in the coalition government."