No tangible progress as coalition parties pledge to save pro-reform government

Petr Nečas, foto: ČTK

The three parties of the Czech coalition government went back to the negotiating table on Monday to try to mend the rifts that have emerged in the wake of a crippling corruption scandal involving the junior coalition party Public Affairs. The meeting produced a verbal pledge to try to save the coalition in its present form, but no tangible progress, indicating just how difficult it may be to overcome the present crisis.

Outgoing Transport Minister Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
Journalists waiting for news on the fate of the government outside its main headquarters on Monday night waited in vain. Representatives of the Civic Democratic Party, TOP 09 and Public Affairs disappeared quietly through a back door after delegating the government spokesman to read a one-line statement to the press – they would make an all out effort to save the coalition government in its present form in the interest of pushing ahead with much-needed reforms. “We did not agree to agree – we agreed to talk“ a Public Affairs representative later clarified for the Czech news agency.

The corruption scandal that hit the junior coalition party opened a veritable Pandora’s box within the government – with old rifts and corruption scandals springing to the fore as each party defended its turf. Outraged at being asked to remove three ministers from the cabinet on a “presumption of guilt” principle the junior party fired into the ranks of its coalition partners –demanding tit-for-tat dismissals of ministers whom it said did not have a clean slate. After a turbulent week of insult-trading and finger-pointing within the Cabinet when it appeared that no minister’s post was safe, the future government line-up remains a mystery and there is a lot of muscle-flexing on the part of all parties involved.

Václav Klaus, photo: Archive of the Czech Government
President Klaus engaged in a bit of muscle flexing himself on Monday when he announced he would not accept the dismissal of two Public Affairs ministers before the prime minister briefed him exactly on how things would proceed.

In a rare show of spirit, Prime Minister Petr Nečas sent a terse message back to Prague Castle – saying three-party talks on saving the government would not proceed until the president had accepted the proposed dismissals.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
How many new faces there may be in the Nečas cabinet when the dust finally settles – remains an open question. If the government is to be saved in its present form – maintaining a relatively comfortable majority in the lower house – compromises will have to be made allowing each party to save face. Party leaderships are now meeting to prepare their strategy for the battle ahead which may result in a reshuffle of ministerial posts and even a re-distribution of power.