Zeman to appoint Sobotka PM Jan 17th, but hints at cabinet minister veto

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

President Miloš Zeman has confirmed he will appoint Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka prime minister next week…but questions remain over Mr Sobotka’s choice of ministers. In a 40-minute televised news conference President Zeman listed a number of objections to the proposed new cabinet, but suggested the new government could be appointed by the end of January.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
President Zeman has finally ended weeks of speculation, announcing to the public that he will appoint Bohuslav Sobotka prime minister next Friday, January 17th, in a ceremony at Prague Castle. In fact what the president said was November 17th, but let’s assume this was a genuine mistake and not a nefarious plan to prolong the ‘government of experts’ Mr Zeman installed last summer.

If it was indeed a mistake, then on Friday, a record 83 days after the ballot boxes were sealed, Mr Sobotka will become the 11th prime minister since the Czech Republic became independent in 1993, succeeding the technocrat leader Jiří Rusnok. The Social Democrat leader had, said Mr Zeman, fulfilled the sole criteria laid before him – presenting him with signed proof that his new coalition government will command a convincing majority in parliament.

For a few days, maybe weeks (maybe longer) after Mr Sobotka’s appointment, the country will find itself in the curious constitutional no-man’s land of simultaneously having two prime ministers – Bohuslav Sobotka, the prime minister designate without an appointed cabinet, and Jiří Rusnok, the interim prime minister who does have a cabinet, albeit one that’s governing in an acting capacity since resigning in August.

As to who will replace them, here Mr Zeman left room for varying interpretations. At four o’clock on Friday Mr Sobotka was due to visit Prague Castle with the original signed coalition agreement and the official list of ministers. Mr Zeman, without naming names, told reporters he had objections to a number of them. Those objections ranged from one minister’s missing security clearance, another’s studies at the now discredited law faculty of Plzen university, and another’s absolute lack of expertise in his given ministry.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
And the president hinted he was willing to reject Mr Sobotka’s cabinet proposals if consensus couldn’t be found. Even if most constitutional experts agree his power of veto is in fact limited, and would almost certainly be challenged in the Constitutional Court. But Mr Zeman showed no signs of being cowed by the prospect. “A proposal is not something you automatically have to accept,” he said. “If that were the case, it would have interesting consequences for business…and indeed marital relations.”