Petr Lessy appointed police president

Petr Lessy (left), Radek John, photo: CTK

Interior Minister Radek John on Monday appointed Petr Lessy the country’s new police chief, ending a drawn out dispute within the governing coalition over how the post should be filled. Although a potential government crisis was successfully averted, pundits say the highly-publicized controversy has shown just how deep the rifts go in the Czech coalition government.

Petr Lessy,  photo: CTK
It was a moment of victory for Interior Minister Radek John, who as head of the smallest party in government -Public Affairs -has had a hard time standing up to his stronger and more experienced coalition partners from the Civic Democrats and TOP 09. However in a clash of wills the interior minister has one big ace up his sleeve –should his party walk out of the coalition –it would mean the end of Prime Minister Nečas’ pro-reform government. In the case of the police president the interior minister pushed this advantage all the way. In late December he forced the resignation of the former police chief Oldrich Martinu, whom he accused of serving the Civic Democratic Party. And in the face of the prime minister’s obvious displeasure he set up a commission of experts to handpick the next police chief in order to guarantee the independence of the police presidium in fighting corruption. After a highly publicized clash of wills, Prime Minister Nečas accepted the selected candidate.

“I do not want any further political conflict over the police president. However I cannot bear co-responsibility for a choice that may be legally disputable.”

Petr Nečas
The legal problem the prime minister was referring to was that according to the Czech service act it should have been up to the interior minister to first consider candidates in the same rank as the outgoing police president before setting up a special board. Mr. John says the selection procedure followed the same steps and the jury is still out on whether the procedure was entirely in line with existing regulations. The interior minister insists that the main priority is for the new police president to get to work.

Pundits note that not only is the politically inexperienced Radek John the winner in this muscle flexing exercise, but the prime minister has not come out of it at all well. The third party in government –TOP 09 – has stayed out of the conflict but the party’s deputy, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek indicated that the prime minister could have spared himself the embarrassment.

“I cannot say that the prime minister’s actions are clearly comprehensible to me, but for TOP 09 I can say that under the service act the matter is clear –it is the responsibility of the interior minister to choose the police president.”

The opposition Social Democrats were far less forbearing. Shadow interior minister Jeroným Tejc had this to say:

“Petr Nečas is acting in a highly alibistic manner and one that is not worthy of the prime minister. It is a pity that we do not have a head of government capable of giving a clear “yes” or “no”.”

In the midst of these political battles over the new police chief experts in the field say that there is reason to hope Petr Lessy will turn out to be the right man for the job – if he can stay out of the coalition government’s skirmishes and focus on the tasks at hand –fighting corruption, organized crime and financial machinations at a time when the police force is laboring under the impact of the government’s cost-cutting measures.