Pundit: “It’s a definite breakup between Zeman and Babiš”

Andrej Babiš, Miloš Zeman

There have been a slew of headlines involving Miloš Zeman’s team since the speaker of the Senate made public a doctors’ statement that the president is unable to perform his duties. These include a pledge from Prime Minister Babiš to remove Mr. Zeman’s head of office. To make some sense of all these news stories, I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

There have been so many developments surrounding Mr. Zeman’s team. The police are evidently investigating his head of office, Mynář, and the foreign minister is removing the diplomatic passport of his advisor Nejedlý. In general, what do you make of events surrounding Prague Castle?

“I think the so-called Prague Castle is a group of people who have made their living and also tied their interests with the president.

“It seems to me that they are doing their best to make sure that President Zeman is not suspended, that he doesn’t lose his powers.

“They obviously have their own plans, though I don’t know exactly what their plans may be.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Jana Trpišovská,  Czech Radio

“But I think what we have seen in the last few days is basically an attempt by this group to prevent Parliament from suspending President Zeman and therefore losing his influence – which of course is their influence.”

Yesterday the very likely next prime minister, Fiala, said that the two houses of Parliament would seek a second medical report on President Zeman’s health, to confirm that he is unable to carry out duties, before votes to remove his powers next month. But can we regard Zeman losing his powers as inevitable?

“No, I think Zeman may still come back in some way.

“He may recover well enough to be able to perform his duties, so of course the plan to suspend him for a period of time may be postponed.

“But if you look at the report that the speaker of the Senate, Mr. Vystrcil, quoted from, from the hospital that Mr. Zeman is in, it is quite difficult to imagine that Mr. Zeman would actually be able to recover enough to perform his presidential duties in the next few weeks.”

Until very recently Prime Minister Babiš was seen as a close ally of President Zeman. But now he is saying that he will kick out Mynář from the Castle and a newspaper he bought a few years ago, Mladá fronta Dnes, today has a headline saying he is “cleaning Zeman’s men out of the Castle”. What should we make of Babiš’s moves at this time?

“It’s a definite breakup between President Zeman and Andrej Babiš.

“I think that Babiš, who lost the elections recently, realised that he doesn’t need Zeman any more.

Vratislav Mynář | Photo: Marián Vojtek,  Czech Radio

“Because even if Zeman appointed him to be the prime minister he could not possibly prevail this time, because the opposition has a majority.

“So I think he has decided to part with Zeman and maybe try his own presidential run.

“We will see, but certainly what he now says about people around Zeman – with whom he I think cooperated quite a lot in the past – is a sign that he has decided to go his own way and that has decided that he doesn’t need President Zeman any more.”

Also today the state prosecutor has said that he will ask new lower house to lift Babiš’s immunity, after the police recommended that he be charged with subsidy fraud. How do you see Storks Nest case playing out now?

“I think that the request by the Prague prosecutor to lift Babiš’s immunity is an interesting development, simply because if the prosecutor had decided that Mr. Babiš should not be sent to court, should not be prosecuted, he would probably not ask for this.

“His move seems to suggest that he is seriously thinking about sending Mr. Babiš to court, to actually send his entire case higher, so to speak.

“Because we know that a few years back he stopped the criminal prosecution of Mr. Babiš.

“This doesn’t seem to be the case now, especially if we consider that this case is pretty much closed, that he was supposed to announce his decision in a few days.

“And his asking for the lifting of the immunity of Mr. Babiš suggests that things are not going well for Mr. Babiš.”