Tables turn on Civic Democrats in ongoing government crisis

Václav Klaus, Petr Nečas, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Interior Minister Radek John, photo: CTK

The Czech government has found itself is in an ever deepening crisis, and it is unclear whether it will be able to right its course or whether the coalition will fall, paving the way for early elections. Over the last 24 hours, coalition negations yielded few results, while new evidence emerged suggesting that the crisis may have been the result of sabotage by rebel MPs as well as members of the coalition leading Civic Democrats.

Václav Klaus, Petr Nečas, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Interior Minister Radek John, photo: CTK
First, a brief recap of how the now very convoluted crisis came about: the junior coalition partner Public Affairs party faced stinging allegations of in-party bribery early last week, promptly followed by the publication an extensive report on their links to the private detective agency ABL. As a result, Prime Minister Petr Nečas fired the party’s top ministers and demanded their ministries be purged of ABL cronies, however the president, Václav Klaus, has refused to accept the dismissals, saying he wants a plan B – in other words the names of the ministers’ successors and assurances the government would be able to come together after the crisis. So far, the coalition has been unable to meet that demand, and in the meantime the plot has thickened.

The crisis reached an apparent tipping point on Wednesday, when it came to light that a faction of the Civic Democratic Party, the coalition leader, may have actually planned and provoked the current situation with rebels within Public Affairs. Kristýna Kočí, who was a top member of Public Affairs and helped start the affair with accusations that the party paid her for her loyalty, was secretly recorded by colleagues, telling them that the sabotage of Public Affairs had been in preparation ever since last summer, and that it had been planned in concert with at least a faction of the Civic Democratic Party.

Kristýna Kočí, photo: CTK
The recordings were published by the website Tyden.cz, and Ms Kočí has not denied their authenticity. Her response has been that she was merely “mystifying” her colleagues – a word used openly in recent Czech political parley to say that one was lying. She says that she knew she was being taped and wanted to show the kinds of practices that Public Affairs employs as the political wing of the ABL detective agency.

Prime Minister Nečas, as chairman of the Civic Democrats, has said the speculations are absurd, that the publication of the recording is meant only to distract from the situation around Public Affairs and ABL. But the chairman of the TOP 09 party, Karel Schwarzenberg, has said that it is likely that a faction within the Civic Democratic Party has been actively working against Public Affairs, as both parties are divided and working on their own agendas.

President Klaus offered the following reaction to the story’s new twist:

“The events of this afternoon have gone beyond any tolerable boundaries, my patience is exhausted, and all signals show that the patience of the Czech public is exhausted. The methods being used on our political scene – wiretapping, secret recording, targeted lying, mutual accusations that are then denied, and a great many other things – have fundamentally expanded the dimensions of this government crisis, and have seriously degraded public confidence in this government and in our political system. Things cannot continue like this. As president, I can no longer passively observe these attempts to disrupt the political system.”

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Few observers would accuse Mr Klaus of having been passive in the past week. Indeed, the most likely way of speedily ending the current crisis would have been to promptly approve the dismissals of the Public Affairs ministers. By reinterpreting his constitutional duty to approve dismissals and hesitating indefinitely, Mr Klaus has given Public Affairs the room to negotiate other options than either supporting the government and losing influence, or taking sides against them and taking their chances anew in early elections.

Talks between the coalition members have been almost ongoing since Wednesday afternoon, but without any breakthrough to speak of. Thursday, the three coalition leaders were summoned to Prague Castle by the president, and after 45 minutes they removed to the prime minister’s residence for more talks. No one in the press has been privy to much of what has been said behind all these doors. Mr Nečas has mentioned only that there are a number of possible outcomes, and Public Affairs only that they find them unacceptable.