Political standoff over Rath appointment intensifies

Jiri Paroubek and David Rath, photo: CTK

The political standoff over the naming of a new health minister intensified with the de facto appointment on Friday of Czech Doctors Union chairman David Rath to the post. President Vaclav Klaus, who rejected Rath's initial candidature, was angered by the move, and continues to cry foul over alleged conflict of interest. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek is threatening to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the legality of Klaus' actions.

Jiri Paroubek and David Rath,  photo: CTK
DV: Brian Kenety joins me now in the studio to discuss the politics behind the non-appointment. Remind us why President Klaus first refused to confirm David Rath in the post of Health Minister.

BK: President Klaus' principle objection to David Rath, was that as chairman of the Czech Doctors Union, he could not be an impartial Health Minister; that he would be beholden to the nation's doctors, whom he has represented now for over a decade. It was a straightforward matter of a conflict of interest. Lighting polls show that the majority of the public, over 55 percent, agreed with the president on this point; that a minister should not head a professional interest group while in office. After President Klaus rejected Rath's candidacy on those grounds, Rath on Friday quickly pushed through a measure in the Czech Doctors Union allowing the board to "suspend" his presidency and assume the role collectively. He also promised to wind up his other business interests.

DV: In the meantime, David Rath is running the health ministry, much to Klaus' annoyance. How did that come about?

BK: Well, immediately after President Klaus last Thursday refused to name David Rath health minister, Jiri Paroubek named him deputy health minister - with executive powers. In fact, officially, it was the acting health minister, Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach, who made the appointment; the Prime Minister simply re-nominated Rath for the post on Friday. President Klaus is very angry about it, arguing that temporary leadership of the ministry cannot be simply "transferred".

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
DV: When are we likely to see this appointment resolved?

BK: That's an open question: the Constitution sets no time limits on when a president must appoint a minister, and professional legal opinion is divided over the presidents actions. So until Prime Minister Paroubek makes good on his threat to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court, Mr Klaus can delay the appointment as long as he likes. If David Rath resigns rather than "suspends" his post as head of the Czech Doctors Union, Mr Klaus' conflict-of-interest argument will become mute. But there is no love lost between the two men Rath began as a supporter of Klaus' centre-right party but has gravitated towards the left - and Klaus - who on Monday refused to meet with the prime minister and his candidate -- could well hold out until another choice is presented, or the Constitutional Court forces his hand.