Top-level meeting on government crisis brings no result

Andrej Babiš, Miloš Zeman, Jan Hamáček, photo: Jiří Ovčáček/Twitter

President Miloš Zeman has not made any final decision concerning the replacement of Culture Minister Antonín Staněk, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said after a meeting at Lány Chateau on Thursday. Mr Babiš and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček met with the head of state with the aim to resolve the dispute that could bring down the government.

Andrej Babiš,  Miloš Zeman,  Jan Hamáček,  photo: Jiří Ovčáček/Twitter

Mr. Hamáček, leader of the Social Democrats, has threatened to walk out of the ruling coalition unless the president complies with his party’s request to remove Antonín Staněk from the post of culture minister and replace him with the party’s nominee Michal Šmarda. The president has so far refused to do so, despite the fact that the prime minister officially requested the minister’s dismissal over a month ago.

While Mr Babiš repeated that he would seek a compromise in the dispute in order to preserve the ruling coalition, Mr Hamáček said he was convinced Mr Staněk should leave the government, adding that in line with the coalition agreement signed the Social Democrats should have the right to name his successor. A special meeting of the Social Democrat leadership is due to take place on July 15to discuss the party’s possible exit from the government.

Meanwhile, the president’s plan is to try to reconcile the current culture minister and the Social Democrat leader at a meeting on July 12. Mr Zeman claims Antonín Staněk shouldn’t have been sacked for unveiling corruption. He also criticized his possible replacement, Mr Šmarda, saying that there was no place for a minister who was not an expert in his field. The Chief Justice of the Czech Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský said on Thursday that the president was not acting in line with the Czech Constitution, according to which he is bound to comply with the prime minister’s request.

In reaction to the outcome of Thursday’s meeting, the leader of the centre-right Civic Democrats Petr Fiala said President Zeman’s actions showed a blatant disrespect for the Constitution, adding that the Czech Republic was paying the price for his actions.

Culture Minister Antonín Staněk stepped down in mid-May after mounting pressure following his dismissal of the director of the National Gallery in Prague, Jiří Fajt, and the head of Olomouc’s Museum of Art, Michal Soukup, accusing them of improper management.