Is time running out for Deputy PM Jiri Cunek?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

He has only been in top politics for a few months and his future is already looking uncertain. Jiri Cunek's career got off to a rocket start last year when the mayor of the Moravian town of Vsetin was elected Senator, then chairman of his Christian Democratic Party, before eventually being appointed deputy prime minister and minister for regional development in the coalition cabinet of Mirek Topolanek.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
Jiri Cunek is no stranger to controversy. As Vsetin's mayor he divided public opinion by evicting Roma rent defaulters from the centre of the town - a move which probably earned him many votes. When earlier this year police charged him with corruption - a case going back to 2002 when he was mayor of Vsetin - Mr Cunek was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. At that time both his own party and the prime minister stood by him. Now Prime Minister Topolanek seems to have lost patience with the long drawn-out case and has openly said the situation is no longer tenable. He also said Mr Cunek's government posts should remain open and be returned to him if he clears his name. We spoke to political commentator Petr Just and asked him why it had taken Prime Minister Topolanek so long.

"Mr Topolanek was waiting to see whether the situation would be solved as quickly as Mr Cunek had promised. He always said that all the evidence is in his favour, not against him and that he will present such evidence and try to challenge the accusation that has been raised against him. However it is obvious that probably that evidence is not so clear or it will take some more time to collect all the evidence. And I understand Mr Topolanek's view that waiting any longer could be a disadvantage for the government as a collective body."

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Mr Cunek maintains he is innocent and that the case has been contrived against him and therefore he will not step down. Do you think he should have resigned as soon as the police brought charges against him?

"If he is a hundred percent sure that his case is artificial and that the result of the investigation will clear him he should have stepped down, waited for the result, and then returned. He was promised by Mr Topolanek that after the case is successfully finished he could return to government. However, now we are in a situation where we are still waiting. We have voices from once side accusing Mr Cunek, and voices from the other side who are defending Mr Cunek. We don't know and the only institution that can decide is an independent court. So until an independent court decides whether the accusation is true or not, I think it would be much better for both Mr Cunek and the Christian Democrats and the government if he resigned and waited for the result."

How do cases like Mr Cunek's affect the Czech political climate?

"We could say that the Czech political climate, or Czech citizens are kind of used to witnessing such cases. I could mention Stanislav Gross, the former prime minister and Social Democrat chairman and his corruption and property scandals. So Czech people, I think, are not surprised if something like that appears in politics - which is on the other hand a very sad statement."