New Czech centre-left government sworn in

Foto: ČTK

A new Czech coalition government has assumed office after being sworn in by President Miloš Zeman at Prague Castle on Wednesday. The centre-left cabinet, formed by the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats, comes to power 95 days after the general election, promising to ease austerity, boost economic growth, and return the country to the EU mainstream.

Photo: CTK
President Miloš Zeman swore in the new Czech government at a brief ceremony at Prague Castle on Wednesday, accepting all 16 ministerial nominations put forth by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. In his remarks, Mr Zeman made note of several errors in Mr Sobotka’s formal appointment request but ended his address on a more conciliatory note.

“Dear prime minister, six mistakes in a one-and-a-half page long document is a little too many, and does now show the extent of professionalism that we would all like to see in this government. […] But I would like to wish the government success, and full dedication to their work.”

The cabinet is composed of eight ministers for the Social Democrats, six for the ANO party, and three for the Christian Democrats. After they took an oath of office, Prime Minister Sobotka outlined some his government’s major goals.

“I’m convinced the new government will bring the Czech Republic economic growth, prosperity and stability. We want to pursue socially sensitive policies; we want to make sure the country is well run, in an effective and transparent manner.”

The new centre-left government replaces an interim cabinet headed by Jiri Rusnok which ran the country for six months. It has pledged to boost the economy by increasing public spending, curbing corruption and making the administration more efficient by overhauling the rules for the employment civil servants. It also plans to scrap some of the controversial reforms introduced by the previous cabinet, mainly in the areas of health care and social services.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  Andrej Babiš,  Miloš Zeman,  Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: CTK
The government has promised to return the country to the mainstream of the European Union. A slight shift in the government’s foreign policy focus, mainly in view of improving ties with major economic powers, can also be expected.

The three-party government however faces several challenges that could undermine its stability. One of them is its strained relations with President Miloš Zeman who has sought to increase his powers ever since he became the first directly elected Czech head of state a year ago.

Another factor that could destabilize the new government is the untested ANO party and its leader, the Slovak-born multi-billionaire Andrej Babiš. The grouping won seats in the lower house running on promises of cleaning Czech politics and curbing corruption. But observers note the party could find it difficult to pursue consistent policies while in power which might put its cohesion under pressure.

The career of the new finance minister, Andrej Babiš, meanwhile, could be undermined by allegations he had collaborated with the communist secret police, the StB.