Senator accused of racism could play role in government formation

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Just three weeks ago Jiri Cunek was fighting off accusations of racism, when - as mayor of Vsetin - he moved Romany rent-defaulters out of the town. But now Mr Cunek, who is also a senator, could become an important player in talks to form a new government - if he is elected chairman of the Christian Democrats.

Jiri Cunek,  photo: CTK
Jiri Cunek has been mayor of the Moravian town of Vsetin for eight years and is said to be one of the most popular figures in the region. He was re-elected mayor with a strong majority in October, when he also became senator for the Vsetin region.

Mr Cunek's popularity seems partly based on his strong stand against Romany rent-defaulters in Vsetin, who he forced out of rundown flats in the town centre and into portacabins. Mr Cunek described this as cleaning or removing an "ulcer".

There was some criticism of the language used and actions taken by Mr Cunek; several senior members of his party the Christian Democrats distanced themselves from the senator, saying his actions went against party principles.

However, the dispute does not seem to have put too great a dent in Jiri Cunek's chances of becoming chairman of the Christian Democrats, when they hold an extraordinary meeting in Brno in just under three weeks' time. Commentators say he is popular within the party as well as with voters.

Mr Cunek, who a decade was working as a safety control officer in a factory, officially announced his candidature for the top party post on Monday. But he seems to already be thinking ahead. Last week he held talks with Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek, though neither participant is willing to say exactly what they discussed.

In the on- and ongoing saga of the search for a new government, one of the latest models of cabinet being discussed would feature the Civic Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, and would be formed after the latter's party conference.

Mr Cunek says such a coalition should be for just one year, and only come into being at all if it agrees on a reform programme. Otherwise, he says, it would be better to create some form of minority cabinet.

But unlike the last chairman of the Christian Democrats, Miroslav Kalousek, Mr Cunek says he would not take part in a minority coalition with the Social Democrats supported by the Communists.