The post of agriculture minister was filled this week as abruptly as it was vacated with Thursday’s appointment of Civic Democrat Petr Bendl. A close ally of the prime minister, Mr Bendl is an experienced hand in regional and ministerial leadership, but his ties to agriculture are non-existent.
Petr Bendl has been in politics since his late 20s, when he became mayor of the town of Kladno near Prague. Since then he has hardly been without a public position, having been elected to Parliament in 1998 and to the governorship of Central Bohemia in 2000. When he lost that office to Social Democrat David Rath in 2008 he was speedily taken in to the cabinet of Mirek Topolánek, where he served as transport minister until the fall of that government, and he has been an MP again since last year. He is a deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Party and indeed has a rich curriculum vitae for high ranking political positions, but his ties to agriculture are razor thin – a point I discussed with political analyst Petr Just.
“It’s obvious that Petr Bendl was first of all a political choice, because he’s considered to be one of Mr Nečas’ allies in the Central Bohemian party faction, and this faction is one of the strongest within the Civic Democratic Party. It’s also obvious that in making this change Petr Nečas was especially affected by the upcoming national party convention, and he wants to strengthen his position before it opens. It’s true that Mr Bendl has no previous background in agriculture, but on the other hand, Mr Fuksa didn’t have a previous background in agriculture either, and he turned out to be quite successful – at least as far as people from the agriculture sector say. So there’s definitely no reason to be worried on that count. On the other hand, the fact that Mr Bendl was appointed due to political issues rather than issues of expertise is something that Mr Nečas will have to face and will be challenged on by his opponents.”
Do you think that Mr Bendl’s appointment will have the political impact that you assume the prime minister wants?
“I’m not sure. Sometimes when making such decisions the prime minister expects some benefits, either in-party benefits or benefits among the general public. As we know, the national convention of the Civic Democrats to be held this autumn will not be a convention at which a new leadership will be elected. The Civic Democrats decided to elect their leadership after regional elections next year. So there’s not actually going to be any changes in the personnel composition of the party’s leadership, so I’m not quite sure what Mr Nečas’ intentions actually are. I would understand making such changes at a time when you need to build loyal groups that will back you during a leadership election, but in this case, I don’t much understand the step he took.”
While the prime minister’s position is technically safe this year, the regional chapter of the Civic Democratic Party in Central Bohemia was the only one to state publically it does not support his continued mandate as party chairman.