Klaus and Paroubek at loggerheads over Rath appointment

David Rath, photo: CTK

There seems to be a curse hanging over the Czech health ministry. Few ministers since 1989 have kept their post for much longer than a year and the health sector has been plagued by financial troubles despite all attempts at reform. The recently vacated seat was about to be filled by David Rath, the head of the professional body of Czech doctors, but President Vaclav Klaus refused to confirm his appointment on Thursday, citing conflict of interest on Mr Rath's part. Only hours later Mr Rath was named deputy health minister.

David Rath,  photo: CTK
Both parties accuse each other of breach of the constitution. President Klaus refused to appoint David Rath because the constitution rules out his parallel activities in the professional chamber representing doctors and Mr Rath says the president is obliged by the constitution to respect the prime minister's choice and appoint whomever the prime minister chooses. Political commentator Vaclav Zak says this vicious circle is actually caused by a loophole in the Czech constitution and in this particular case better communication between the prime minister and the president could have prevented this situation.

"In this case when the president of the Chamber of Doctors is established as health minister, it is really a problem because he is the chief representative of one part of the health sector and now he should be a partner to himself, in fact. So there the objection of the President is understandable. Unfortunately, according to my opinion, he has no right to refuse to appoint him as minister. So I am afraid that President Klaus again extended his powers and the Prime Minister solved it in the way that Mr Rath will in fact lead the ministry but formally the ministry will be under the governance of the prime minister. So I think it is not good for the Czech political culture and if they had discussed the matter beforehand, it would be much better."

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Immediately after President Klaus voiced his objection on Thursday, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek came up with "plan B" - to make David Rath deputy health minister with executive powers. Such a fast development may suggest that Mr Paroubek had actually anticipated President Klaus's move. Commentator Vaclav Zak.

"I don't think so. You should remember that there was a 'plan A' several weeks ago that [former] health minister Milada Emmerova will remain in office and Mr Rath will be her first deputy and he will in fact be chief executive office of the ministry. She refused that therefore she was sacked and he was appointed. So the 'plan B' was in fact 'plan A' several weeks ago."

But Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek is not giving up. Although technically speaking, he has his man at the helm of the ministry, he needs Mr Rath to become a regular cabinet member because his vote would make a difference in the three party coalition government. Commentators agree that all three men: President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and David Rath, should meet and settle the dispute before it results in a serious constitutional crisis.