The leadership of the junior coalition party Public Affairs is meeting to debate the outcome of last week’s trial in which the party’s informal leader Vít Bárta was found guilty of bribery. Although Mr. Bárta had promised to pull out of high politics if he did not clear his name, he now says he’ll keep his seat in the lower house and he thus remains a member of the party’s deputies’ club. Radio Prague asked commentator Jiří Pehe for his thoughts on how this latest development may impact the government’s future and who is now actually running the smallest party in government.
“In my opinion Vít Bárta still controls the party behind the scenes. I don’t think that his party colleagues – although some of them are now cautiously critical of him –are able to do anything significant without his approval. His trial and sentencing have to some extent weakened his position in the eyes of the public, but I think that since the Public Affairs Party is really firmly built around Vít Bárta it would be very difficult for any new leader to do anything without Bárta’s approval or assistance.”
What are the implications for the coalition government?
“Well, the coalition government is in trouble simply because on the one hand Public Affairs’ coalition partners –the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 - would like Mr. Bárta to disappear from the political scene but on the other hand since the party is very much Bárta’s project it would be very difficult to see this brought about.”
The Civic Democrats and TOP 09 have said they find Mr. Bárta’s continued presence in Czech politics totally unacceptable – but as you say – either they will have to accept him for the coalition to continue or it will come to an end, is that it?
“I think that they will look for some kind of solution that would at least give the impression that Vít Bárta has taken a back seat and is no longer involved in the day-to-day politics of Public Affairs. I think that there will be a lot of willingness on both sides to find some sort of agreement. We have gone through similar crises relating to Public Affairs many times now and in the end they always found a compromise simply because the three coalition parties cannot afford not to find one because none of them can face early elections right now without suffering major damages.”
If Vít Bárta were to agree to take a back seat and allow Karolína Peake (deputy prime minister who has announced her intention to run for party leader in next election) to take over –which is what many people would like to see –would Karolina Peake be able to turn things around or is there no future for Public Affairs without Vít Bárta?
“I think there is no future for Public Affairs with or without Vít Bárta. The party has discredited itself to such an extent that it cannot really recover. I have never seen a Czech political party go into such a slump and then make a comeback. That has not happened in Czech political history after 1989 and I do not think it will happen with the Public Affairs party. So, yes, maybe if Vít Bárta were to step aside and cease to be involved in day-to-day politics the party would look a bit more credible and maybe there would be fewer coalition conflicts but on the other hand I do not think that the party can recover under the leadership of Karolína Peake to the extent that it would be able to be a viable competitor in the next elections.”