Czech President, Communist Party leader openly reject foreign minister nomination

Prime Minister-designate Andrej Babiš presented his proposed new cabinet line-up to the Czech president for approval on Sunday, two days after the centre-left Social Democrats agreed – following a party referendum – to join Mr Babiš’s centrist ANO party in a coalition government. But the political uncertainty is not over, with the foreign minister nomination proving controversial.

Miroslav Poche, photo: ČTK/Vondrouš RomanMiroslav Poche, photo: ČTK/Vondrouš Roman The Social Democrats are insisting on a candidate for foreign minister – current member of European Parliament Miroslav Poche – who has been publicly rejected as unsuitable by Czech president Miloš Zeman. On Sunday, the Communist Party chairman said Mr Poche is “untrustworthy” and that his party would not support the coalition government if he is in the cabinet.

The controversy over Mr Poche’s nomination may signal some political horse-trading is left to be done, perhaps in the form of policy concessions to the Communists. Whatever the case, says Charles University professor and political analyst Petr Just, someone is lying about what had previously been agreed, and continued public bickering and accusations sends a terrible signal.

“Events over the weekend show that probably the politicians who are in charge of negotiations on the future coalition agreement are still playing some kind of party or strategic games. The voters, the public, must be quite confused about what is actually happening behind the scenes at the coalition meetings. Of course, it’s quite hard for a person not attending these meetings to judge who is right and who is wrong; who is lying and who is telling the truth. And this is probably one of the worst signals, one of the worst messages, the public gets about these negotiations.”

President Zeman reportedly objects to the candidacy of Miroslav Poche because he has steadfastly supported the EU’s refugee policy – although his voting record show differently – and because he has been critical of Israel’s stance towards Palestinians. But Mr Poche also did publicly back another candidate in the most recent presidential race. Speculation is that the president may hold a grudge against Poche, or want to keep Mr Babiš in political limbo. Political analyst Petr Just again:

Miloš Zeman, photo: ČTK/Petr David JosekMiloš Zeman, photo: ČTK/Petr David Josek “There were some personal issues between Mr Poche on the one side and Mr Zeman and Mr Babiš on the other side. But nobody wants to be seen as using personal issues as the argument against him. This is why they are more trying to argue by citing his voting record and other issues related to programme policy.”

President Zeman said through a spokesman he would meet Mr Poche this week – but only in order to ask him in person to step aside. Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček, meanwhile, is refusing to propose anyone else because all of his party’s picks for cabinet posts were announced before their referendum. Mr Hamáček also said he had only heard on Sunday that the Communists would categorically reject a government including Poche.

The Czech Republic has now been without a fully-fledged government since parliamentary elections in October. Mr Babiš needs the Communists’ support in order to pass a confidence vote set for mid-July.