PM unexpectedly fires popular justice minister

Jiří Pospíšil, photo: CTK

President Václav Klaus dismissed Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil on Wednesday following a surprisingly rapid recommendation by the country’s prime minister, Petr Nečas. The sacking of one of the most popular Czech politicians came a day after the government discussed budget plans for next year. Mr Nečas said that the minister had been sacked for failing to meet austerity targets. Critics, though, charge there is another reason the politician was shown the door.

Jiří Pospíšil, photo: CTK
At a press conference following the developments on Wednesday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas minced no words, making clear the justice minister had failed – and failed utterly - to do what was necessary: ie. reel in his budget. According to Mr Nečas, Pospíšil – who also served as justice minister under a previous centre-right government – had done just the opposite, and tipped the scales, so to speak, by asking for a budget boost of one billion crowns. On Wednesday, the prime minister said this:

“I opted for his dismissal because of his failure as a manager in the area of the budget. I cannot allow a situation, on the one hand, where the entire government is being forced to make cuts... and on the other a ministry puts forward a request for an additional billion crowns.”

Mr Nečas stressed that the request had had a demoralising effect on the cabinet and added he had had to raise his voice against a number of ministers a day earlier when it came to budget demands. He warned that any minister in government who failed to meet their budget levels would follow in Pospíšil’s footsteps:

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
“Before any talks on the budget, my ministers always hear one sentence from me: that if they want to protest their allotted budget they have only one means: to tender their resignation.”

Jiří Pospíšil, of course, wasn’t allowed even that. And already the controversy is growing: so far, the growing consensus is that he was sacked not over budget cuts at all but over future leadership at the Prague High State Attorney’s office, where Mr Pospíšil was key in pushing against suspected corruption. Highly-respected prosecutor Lenka Bradáčová, for example, has been recommended by Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman to replace the former controversial head: she is a candidate Mr Pospíšil would likely have confirmed had he stayed on. Now there is no certainty his eventual successor will do the same.

Hana Marvanová is a lawyer and former politician who has been following developments. She spoke to Czech Radio’s Radiožurnal on Wednesday:

“Anyone who saw the prime minister’s briefing could see his argument wasn’t very convincing... he was nervous, he couldn’t look anyone in the eye... I think the official reason for Mr Pospíšil’s decision was contrived to prevent his naming of a new head of the Prague High State Prosecutors Office. There were no signs the move was coming and even the minister himself was told only minutes prior.”

Lenka Bradáčová
So far, Jiří Pospíšil – who was routinely rated one of the most competent members of the government in opinion polls – has had the least to say about his firing. He made clear in a brief interview for Czech Radio on Wednesday morning that he respected the decision, stressing that it was within the prime minister’s full authority. Since, he has modified his response somewhat, revealing he would indeed have named Ms Bradáčová to the Prague High State Attorney’s Office; he has recommended that his eventual successor do the same.