The Czech lower house on Friday approved a draft of the state budget for 2014 in the so-called first reading, sending it for debates in the house committees. The draft budget has a projected deficit of 112 billion crowns which would leave the gap in public spending below 3 percent of GDP. It is based on growth expectations of 1.3 percent, which would bring an additional four to five billion crowns in tax revenues to state coffers. The parties of the emerging government coalition – the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats – have said they would like to see the budget approved by the end of the year.
Representatives of the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democratic party are holding three-way talks on Monday to discuss the possible future coalition agreement. The Social Democrats and ANO had previously announced that they have reached an agreement on 99 percent of their platform priorities during their meetings held last week. The Christian Democratic chairman Pavel Bělobrádek described Monday’s talks as crucial, saying that they will determine whether the three parties will be able to form a coalition. At the same time, Social Democratic chairman Bohuslav Sobotka has criticized Mr. Bělobrádek for planning to travel to the United States for two weeks on Tuesday, in the middle of the critical coalition negotiations.
Newly-elected MP Tomio Okamura, the head of the parliamentary group Dawn of Direct Democracy, has said fellow politician and ANO 2011 leader Andrej Babiš should be the country's next finance minister regardless of whether he failed or passed a screening law blocking those who cooperated with the communist era secret police, the StB, from holding public office. Speaking on a TV debate programme, Mr Okamura stressed that almost 20 percent of the electorate voted for ANO 2011 and that voters "expected" its leader to take up a ministerial post. Mr Babiš, a billionaire magnate, is listed in Slovakia as having collaborated with the secret police under the former regime. He has categorically denied such cooperation and has gone to court over the issue.
Following the recent election, there has been a renewed focus on party sponsoring, including an expected shift by some donors to newer political parties following poor results by more traditional ones that held the playing field until now. The shift is being studied by politickefinancovani.cz, headed by American sociologist and teacher at Prague’s Institute of Sociology, Michael L. Smith. He told me more about his role in the project and how the major focus continues to be the need for greater transparency.
Communists MPs on Thursday filed a proposal to abolish the so-called screening law which prevents former collaborators with the communist secret services from holding certain positions in public administration. The party said the legislation, adopted after the fall of communism in the country, was outlived. The issue of the legislation recently surfaced as it could prevent the leader of the ANO party, Andrej Babiš, from holding a ministerial position. The lower house could debate the proposal in January at the earliest.
The head of the ANO party in the Vysočina region, Jan Sobotka, will not become member of Parliament as a replacement for an ANO MP who stepped down. Mr Sobotka told reporters on Thursday he would reject the seat in the lower house over a failure to file his tax returns, and a debt in his health insurance payments. Mr Sobotka was to replace another party official elected on the ANO ballot in the region who had resigned over his past as a member of the former communist military counter-intelligence. The chairman of the ANO deputies’ group in the lower house said they would thoroughly screen the next person on the ballot who’ll replace Mr Sobotka.
The Ecumenical Council of Churches, a body associating Czech Christian churches, on Thursday rejected proposed cuts to a controversial property restitution deal. The Social Democratic and ANO parties would like to lower financial compensation of 59 billion crown, granted to churches and religious societies in lieu of property confiscated by the communist regime that cannot be physically returned. The proposal has also been rejected by the Christian Democrats, the third party of the possible next coalition government.
The Christian Democrats may not join a coalition if a law preventing collaborators with the communist-era secret police, the StB, from attaining high office is removed from the statute books. The party’s deputy leader, Jan Bartošek, said he foresaw a “big collision” in connection with the issue. The leader of the Social Democrats has questioned the usefulness of the lustration (screening) law. The head of ANO has been listed as a collaborator with the StB, which could mean he cannot become a minister.
The final version of a coalition deal between the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats should be drawn up within a fortnight, the Social Democrats’ deputy leader Alena Gajdůšková said on Tuesday. Officials from her party are preparing a draft agreement that will be presented to the other two parties involved in negotiations at the weekend. To date the Social Democrats and ANO, the largest groupings in the likely coalition, have divided a few key positions between themselves.
The leader of ANO, business tycoon Andrej Babiš, is set purchase the company that operates Impuls, the most popular radio station in the Czech Republic. Mr. Babiš’s Agrofert have signed a letter of intent with Londa, the owner of Impuls, with the deal yet to be considered by the country’s anti-trust agency. Earlier this year, Mr. Babiš’s firm bought the publisher of two leading Czech newspapers. An Agrofert executive has said the company is also considering the acquisition of a TV station.