Prime Minister says there is no reason for coalition to collapse

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Khalil Baalbaki

The ongoing government crisis over the proposed reorganisation of the police has shown no signs of abating and the future of the cabinet now hangs in the balance. The head of ANO, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, has warned that if the controversial changes to the force get the go-ahead, the party will leave the government. The Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, countered that there was no reason for the cabinet to collapse.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
Until now, the government of Bohuslav Sobotka has had to weather little internal division and very few scandals, but the deepening crisis over the planned reorganisation of the country’s police force, including its highly-respected unit for combatting organised crime, has all the makings of the perfect political storm. ANO leader Andrej Babiš warned that if the reforms are approved his party will withdraw from the coalition, as the coalition agreement, stipulating that major changes needed to be consulted at the government level, had not been respected.

By contrast, the prime minister slammed ANO for, in his view, trying putting to pressure the interior minister and police president, saying the planned changes were fully within their competencies. More and more, it appears to be a situation of a stand-off in which it is uncertain who will blink first and even Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek admitted after a meeting of the three coalition leaders on Wednesday morning that the situation was serious:

Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“[The ANO leader] warned that if the reorganization plans are approved that he would not just consider but would withdraw from the coalition agreement. To that, the prime minister replied that the decision would have to be in writing.”

The planned changes have been questioned by many, not least the head of the organised crime unit itself, Robert Šlachta, who resigned in protest, but has since said he might return. Others taking exception to the proposal, at least as outlined so far, are chief state prosecutors, the supreme state prosecutor and the justice minister, who himself threatened to resign. The right-wing opposition, which has no love for Mr Babiš, meanwhile charged that the leader had deliberately escalated the crisis ahead of elections next year. The leader of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats Petr Fiala said this:

“ANO are acting absolutely irresponsibly and the end result will cast doubts on the work of the police, which is something we cannot allow.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Commenting on the developments, political analyst Aleš Balcar suggested on Czech TV that the situation had grown increasingly muddy.

“At this moment I think that anything can happen. Everything we’ve heard over the last few days suggests high emotions… [the minister could sign or ANO could leave…] it is a question, in my opinion, of how much some of them have painted themselves into a corner.”