Just two years ago the name Karolína Peake was known to few people outside of the issue of playgrounds in Prague 1. Today she’s the keystone in the fractured coalition government. Last week, the 36-year-old deputy prime minister caused an upheaval in the government when she abandoned the junior coalition party Public Affairs, of which she has been a member since 2007, and took eight of the party’s MPs with her. The result of the split has been the departure of Public Affairs from government to the opposition, and a wafer-thin majority in Parliament for the centre-right reform parties. That majority is based entirely on the newly emerging party around Mrs. Peake, which at present can only be called the Public Affairs defectors. Is this the start of a new political organisation with long-term goals, or a quick fix intended to allow the government to ride out the next two years, that’s the first question we put to Karolína Peake on Thursday.
Long-term political organisation, or is the main intent just to ride out the next two years?
“The idea to start a political party only arose a week ago when I decided, quite suddenly, to leave Public Affairs, and others decided to join me. I would like to give a chance not just to myself but also to those people to find a new platform, without joining another existing party, to start a brand new party with long-term prospects, rather than with just a two-year intention of going into regional or Senate elections. Something long-term, for sure.”
Can you describe your long-term plans? How will the party differ from other centre-right parties? Do you have a name?
“We don’t have a name yet, we are brainstorming over that at the moment. In brief, it should be a liberal democratic party. In many ways actually I would like to go back to what I joined politics with together with Public Affairs: a centre-right party that serves the people and is legible, with no ultimatums, providing an alternative to the existing big parties which I think in many ways have disappointed the electorate and which gave new parties the chance to emerge before. Unfortunately, Public Affairs has disappointed people in many ways.”
Do you expect to draw any more MPs from Public Affairs?
“Maybe. As I said, it’s quite a fresh idea. We have to put together a programme and a platform, and once we present it I would of course like to welcome other former colleagues. Right now there are some other local organisations of Public Affairs which have already shown interest in joining a new party, some of them have already left Public Affairs, many of them are the local organisations in the city of Prague but also in the Pardubice and Zlín regions.”
Where is the funding coming from?
“Well the funding will be a big task. First of all, we want to create a website where every crown we get will be easily traceable and the donation can be tracked to a particular person. I know that the financing of political parties has raised a lot of questions around Public Affairs and other parties as well, so my colleague Lenka Andrysová is just now in the process of preparing a financing and sponsorship programme for the new party.”
Getting a vote of confidence in Parliament tomorrow is one thing, but are you indeed confident that your MPs will continue to support the government’s reforms, and how will Public Affairs’ indication that they will not support much of the government’s programme now affect the government’s stability for the future?
“I am very much aware of the fact that it is not just tomorrow’s vote of confidence that matters for this government, the majority will be smaller than what we had before, but I really do hope that it will be more reliable. And already next week when the session of parliament continues we will see how reliable it is and how united it is.”
Have you spoken with the prime minister about any changes in ministerial posts?
“No, not yet. We have to wait for the dust to settle. The first priority of course is appointing a new minister of education. This ministry has been without a head for a while, and it’s never good for a department to be without a leader.”
And that minister will now come from your faction?
“Right now I don’t see a reason why that should change, but of course we will be talking to the prime minister about that and about any other possible changes that he might suggest. But he hasn’t hinted anything like that to me so far.”
Lastly, the current situation and your leadership of a new party was probably the furthest thing from your mind when you came to Parliament less than two years ago, and it’s also affected your personal friendships. How are you holding up?
“The personal relationships with my colleagues in Public Affairs was the hardest thing in making this decision and it’s still the hardest thing for me to explain and to appease myself about, that I did the right thing. And I have to say, I still believe that when I made the decision to leave a week ago, it was the right thing to do. Not just for me, but also for other colleagues who decided to join me. And I hope it was also the right thing for this government and for politics in the Czech Republic in general. I would like to put as effort as I can into rebuilding rust in politics in the Czech Republic, because it has really been hurting for the last two years.”