Political analyst Pehe: Collapse of government a possibility if junior coalition partner walks out

Radek John, photo: CTK

On Thursday, junior coalition member Public Affairs came forward with a list of demands for the government, threatening to walk out unless a new anti-corruption law is passed and further personnel changes within the cabinet are made. The step came only a day after the party’s leader, Radek John, resigned from his post of anti-corruption tsar, which he had only recently been appointed to in an effort to quell a government crisis. To add further fuel to the fire, a compromising tape of a March meeting between Public Affairs’ de-facto leader Vít Bárta and senior party officials appeared on the internet late on Thursday. Political analyst Jiří Pehe speaks about those developments, beginning with Mr John’s resignation.

Radek John,  photo: CTK
“It’s significant on two levels. First, it sends a message that the government is not really serious about trying to fight corruption, and that is a strong message and one that I think the Public Affairs party wants to make, maybe as part of their exit strategy from the government.

“And Mr. John is not just an ordinary member of the Public Affairs party, he is its chairman and it is quite difficult to imagine that the party would continue in the government unless it is at least compensated significantly for the forced departure of its chairman from the government.”

On Thursday, Public Affairs actually presented a list of demands they have for the government and threatened to walk out if their demands are not met. Do you think this is an empty threat, or is actually part of what you said was an exit strategy?

“The Public Affairs party is in a very difficult position. It has tried to put pressure on the other two coalition partners, and it has done so several times by having different demands and then it would later always find a solution. But this time, I think it is really serious, because it is a matter of prestige for the party. They definitely have to do something to show to the public that they are not just a symbolic part of the government coalition but that they do have ministries and they do have important positions.”

Vít Bárta,  photo: CTK
So how do you think this will play out?

“In my opinion, this government will experience another crisis, and it will be focused on the demand of the Public Affairs party to pass an anti-corruption law tied to the vote of confidence, and it will be tied of course, too, to the demands of the party to get four ministries.

“And I would not exclude that this time, the government will collapse, simply because it seems to me that the Public Affairs party is really reaching the bottom of its political popularity, and it could really not be able to recover unless it does something radical. And I think that their departure from the government may be what the party needs at this point to recover at least party.”

And lastly, on the issue of corruption, yesterday a new tape appeared on the internet, and I’d like to ask you two things regarding that tape. First, what kind of light does it cast on Public Affairs’ party financing, and secondly, what is your take on the comments that former transport minister Vít Bárta makes about President Václav Klaus: do you think he actually has some influence over the president?

“The party finances of the Public Affairs party are a mess, that’s something that could really damage this party. But on the other hand, we should not be naïve, because this is indeed a problem that affects all Czech political parties.

Václav Klaus,  Radek John,  photo: CTK
“As far as Bárta’s statements about Mr. Klaus go, they are really disturbing, that a party leader can say that the president will do whatever he wants. That leads to all kinds of speculation, from the ability of Mr. Bárta to manipulate the president with political promises, to perhaps even worse speculations that Mr. Bárta, who was the head of a security agency, has some kind of compromising material that he can use against the president of the country.”