Zeman rejection of Šmarda puts coalition government under intense pressure

Michal Šmarda, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

President Miloš Zeman says he will definitely not appoint the Social Democrats’ nominee for arts minister to the post, reigniting a political crisis that has been going on for months. With the party insisting they get their way, the governing coalition’s days could be numbered.

Michal Šmarda,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
After a few weeks of calm, a political crisis that began in May when the previous minister of culture tried to tender his resignation has reignited.

Though the president is meant to appoint ministers nominated by the prime minister, Miloš Zeman had said he would “decide” by mid-August whether he would appoint the Social Democrats’ new candidate for arts chief, Michal Šmarda.

On Wednesday he came good on that promise, when he said he would not appoint Mr. Šmarda.

Mr. Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček made this statement.

“He is not professionally competent for the post of minister of culture. Therefore the president has asked the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Jan Hamáček, to propose a new candidate via Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who fulfils at least elementary professional requirements.”

Jan Hamáček is on holiday, but still made this statement to Czech Television.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki / Czech Radio
“The constitution does not allow the president in any way to evaluate such nominations. And the Social Democrats are definitely not planning to change our candidate.”

PM Babiš is also on holiday and says he will discuss the matter with the Social Democrats’ leader on his return next week.

The ANO chief has so far rejected the idea of taking Mr. Zeman to the Constitutional Court over his refusal to appoint Mr. Šmarda and critics say he has been too weak to stand up to the head of state.

Opposition figures have also criticised the president’s actions. The leader of TOP 09, Jiří Pospíšil, said the president was intensifying the political crisis.

And Christian Democrats’ chief Marek Výborný said the situation was doing a lot of damage.

Jan Hamáček,  photo: David Sedlecký,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“At a time when the debate over next year’s budget is reaching a climax these steps further deepen the instability at the Ministry of Culture. It harms the entire government, it harms culture in the Czech Republic. I’d be very glad if everybody, the prime minister and the president and other constitutional actors, respected the constitution.”

Commentators have pointed to an interview given just prior to Mr. Zeman’s statement on Wednesday by Jaroslav Foldyna, a Social Democrat MP who is at odds with the party leadership and politically closer to the president.

Mr. Foldyna said that he would support a government led by Mr. Babiš even if his own party quit the coalition.

Assuming there are others in the notoriously divided Social Democrats who might do likewise, this opens up a vista of a reconstructed but weakened ANO government carrying on, with Mr. Zeman’s hand considerably strengthened.

This puts increased pressure on Mr. Hamáček, who – his party’s glory days long gone – seems very much between a rock and a hard place.