The Czech government crisis became a bit more confused and a bit more personal in spite of a series of meetings were held at Prague Castle with the aim of clarifying the situation. One issue left up in the air for most of Wednesday was whether the prime would actually hand in the government’s resignation. And relations between the two main parties appeared to widen with the release of tapes, purportedly of ANO leader Andrej Babiš bad mouthing his government coalition colleagues.
At a late night meeting on Wednesday the Social Democratic Party leadership agreed that the best possible solution to the crisis would be a coalition of the same three parties without the presence of Andrej Babis in the cabinet. Prime Minister Sobotka said on Thursday that if President Zeman gave the Social Democrats the chance to form a cabinet both Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek and Interior Minister Milan Chovanec would be suitable candidates for the post of prime minister. While Prime Minister Sobotka said he had no problem relinquishing his post, Mr. Babis’ ANO party has rejected the idea of a government set-up without him. All three coalition parties are against the idea of early elections favoured by the opposition Civic Democrats and TOP 09. Under Czech law it will be up to the president to accept or refuse the government’s resignation and decide on a future course of action. President Zeman has been meeting with party leaders in order to get more insight into the crisis. Regular elections are scheduled to take place in October.
The police have asked the lower house of Parliament to strip two deputies of their immunity opening the way for charges to be filed against them in connection with involvement in suspected EU fraud. The case relates to distribution of EU funds within the Regional Operational Program North-West. According to the head of the Immunity Committee of the lower house Miroslava Němcová the deputies in question are Josef Novotný of the Social Democrats and Communist Party deputy Jaroslav Borka. The committee is to meet on May 18th to issue a recommendation to the assembly ahead of a vote later this month.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka dropped a veritable bombshell on the Czech political scene on Tuesday in a surprise announcement his government would resign this week. He took the decision over his Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ finances, but almost immediately drew fire for sinking what was regarded as a stable government. The decision to resign, above all, puts the next step in the hands of the president.
Bohuslav Sobotka’s announcement that he would hand in the resignation of his government over Finance Minister Andrej Babiš’s alleged misconduct has been a bombshell on the political scene. Indeed, commentators are suggesting the prime minister’s move is a risky, all-or-nothing gamble. How are things likely to play out? And what role might President Zeman play in resolving the situation? I discussed those questions and more with political commentator Jiří Pehe.
The leader of the junior Czech coalition government party, the Christian Democrats, Pavel Bělobrádek, has said the party is prepared to see out the term of the current government even though it has resigned. He added that early elections was not an ideal solution. The future of the government is currently at stake following the announcement on Tuesday by prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka that he would submit its resignation by the end of the week because he could not continue with Andrej Babiš as finance minister because of his conflicts of interests and failure to explain financial deals.
ANO chief Andrej Babiš is due to hold talks with President Miloš Zeman on Wednesday. The meeting was scheduled before Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats made the surprise announcement that his government would hand in it its resignation this week; however, the situation will dominate the meeting. Mr. Babiš said on Tuesday that the next move was the president’s. The latter is obliged by the constitution to accept the resignation of a cabinet but there is no deadline for doing so. The leader of junior coalition partners the Christian Democrats also says the matter is in the president’s hands. Pavel Bělobrádek has asked to meet Mr. Zeman on Thursday.
With Bohuslav Sobotka’s radical decision to hand in the resignation of the government over questions surrounding the financial dealings of ANO Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, the Social Democrat prime minister has begun a risky game with no clear outcome, editorials in the Czech media agree. Hospodářské noviny described the step as the biggest chess game of Mr. Sobotka’s career, saying there was a considerable chance it would be his last. Respekt said the situation increased the significance of President Zeman; however, he himself is facing an election and may be more cautious than in the past, its author said. Mladá fronta Dnes (the property of Mr. Babiš but now in a trust fund) described the PM’s step as grandiose nonsense.
ANO leader Andrej Babiš says he will not take any steps at present regarding the announcement of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats that the coalition government would hand in its resignation this week. Mr. Babiš said it was now a matter for President Miloš Zeman. The president has to accept a government’s resignation but there is no deadline for his doing so. The ANO chief also told Lidovky.cz that he could imagine a new government of the same parties not featuring either him or Mr. Sobotka. He suggested he could accept such a situation if the minister of foreign affairs, Lubomír Zaorálek, represented the Social Democrats but ruled out Interior Minister Milan Chovanec in that role.
The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats, says he
plans to inform the president of the resignation of his government by the
end of the week. Making the surprise announcement on Tuesday afternoon, Mr.
Sobotka blamed the situation on ANO’s Andrej Babiš, who he said could
not remain in the post of minister of finance.
The prime minister said that the Mr. Babiš had for several months failed to clear up questions surrounding financial transactions with which he has been involved. Mr. Sobotka told reporters that if he had dismissed Mr. Babiš he would have presented himself as a “martyr”.
The ANO chief and billionaire is accused by critics of purchasing crown bonds whose revenue is not taxable from his company Agrofert and other financial improprieties. Mr. Babiš said a letter he had written clarified the situation, but Mr. Sobotka said his explanations had been unacceptable and questions remained as to whether he had committed tax evasion.
The prime minister said that if the government resigned the coalition parties could hold talks on forming a new cabinet. However, that would involve resolving outstanding issues surrounding Mr. Babiš in order to bring an end to conflicts of interest. Otherwise, the parties could work toward calling new elections, he said.
For his part, Mr. Babiš told journalists he had been surprised by the PM’s announcement, describing it as the desperate act of a desperate man. He said the best solution would be for the government to serve out its term as a government in resignation.
Regular elections are planned for October and polls put Mr. Babiš’s ANO some way ahead of the PM’s Social Democrats.