Will Jiri Cunek's political ambitions bring down the government?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Wednesday the centre right government of Mirek Topolanek celebrated a double triumph – it survived a motion of no-confidence initiated by the opposition parties and pushed through the 2008 state budget. Despite its fragile majority in the lower house the government appears to have a firm hold on the reins of power, but now the political ambitions of one man are threatening to destroy its unity.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
It is just five weeks since Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek – who heads one of the three governing parties – was forced to resign amidst allegations of corruption. Now he is knocking on the government’s door once again expecting to be reinstated to the posts of deputy prime minister and minister for local development. Since the charges against him were dropped his own party leadership is backing his demands and the prime minister is in a tight spot. Two ministers of the Green Party – Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Education Minister Ondrej Liska – have threatened to resign if Mr. Cunek rejoins the cabinet. On the other hand, the Christian Democrats could walk out if he does not. Political commentator Jiri Pehe explains what is happening behind the scenes and what are the prime minister’s options.

“Mr. Cunek wants to return to government and I am afraid he is not alone – there is an entire wing in the Christian Democratic Party which is determined to get him back there. There is an internal struggle within the party with two factions vying for power and the faction which “installed” Mr. Cunek in office in the fall of 2006 knows that if Mr. Cunek falls then changes in the party will follow and this faction will most likely lose its influence on party politics. However, if the prime minister takes Mr. Cunek back then he would face a crisis in the Green Party which is not willing to accept Mr. Cunek’s return. So I think this situation is very serious - much more serious than the recent vote of no-confidence in the government.”

So what are the chances of resolving this crisis and maintaining the unity of the coalition government?

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
“I think that at this point Mr. Topolanek simply cannot take Mr. Cunek back. This would immediately be reflected in opinion polls and I believe that all three parties’ ratings would plunge as a result, causing some degree of panic within the coalition. Therefore I think that Mr. Topolanek has to stand firm and try to persuade reasonable people in the Christian Democratic Party to nominate someone else. After all the Christian Democrats have a number of important posts in government – for instance the post of finance minister which usually goes to the strongest party – so I think that if Mr. Topolanek stands his ground he will probably force the Christian Democrats to re-evaluate their position simply because it is not in their interest to leave the government under the present conditions. They would lose all the positions of influence they have managed to get and it would amount to political suicide for them to do so.”