The junior coalition party Public Affairs has threatened to walk out of
the government if the party’s demand for a broad cabinet reshuffle is not
met. Party leader Radek John said in a televised debate on Sunday that if
Public Affairs was being asked to remove three of its ministers in
connection with a highly publicized corruption scandal, then the
presumption of guilt must apply to all ministers in the centre-right
The rift in the coalition government deepened after Prime Minister Peter Nečas said that the resignation of Transport Minister Vít Bárta – the central figure in the Public Affairs corruption scandal – was not enough and that Interior Minister Radek John and Education Minister Pavel Dobeš would also have to quit their posts. In a tit-for-tat move, the junior coalition party has demanded the dismissal of Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek of TOP 09, Defense Minister Alexander Vondra of the Civic Democrats and Agriculture Minister Ivan Fuksa, also of the Civic Democratic Party, whom past media reports have linked to non-transparent or overpriced tenders. The prime minister has rejected the demand saying he would not be forced into a barter trade to satisfy the junior coalition party.
The Civic Democrats and TOP 09 of the ruling coalition have expressed full support for the prime minister’s handling of the government crisis. Both parties have said it is vital to cleanse the cabinet of people loyal to Transport Minister Vit Bárta and those linked directly or indirectly to the detective agency ABL, formerly owned by him. Mr. Bárta tendered his resignation on Friday after two party members filed charges of corruption against him and the media produced information suggesting that the multi-millionaire had set up the political party in order to wield more power. Interior Minister Radek John, whom the prime minister wants to dismiss, is a close ally of his and party rebels have described him as being a mere puppet in Vít Bárta’s plans.
The opposition Social Democrats have said they would not support a minority government of Civic Democrats and TOP 09 if Public Affairs walks out of the coalition government. Social Democrat deputy chair Michal Hašek said that if the three party coalition disintegrates, there would be no point in prolonging the country’s agony and the only solution would be early elections. We would expect the prime minister to admit defeat and offer his resignation, Hašek told journalists. Although the governing coalition had a comfortable majority of 118 seats, the present developments could leave it seriously weakened. Without Public Affairs it would have a mere 94 seats in the 200-member lower house and intensive behind the scenes negotiations are underway to ascertain how many Public Affairs deputies would be ready to support the government should the coalition break-up.
The man at the centre of the Public Affairs corruption scandal, outgoing transport minister Vít Bárta told Czech public television on Sunday he was the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign. Mr. Bárta insists that the considerable sums of money he paid in cash to three party members were loans for which he had not requested a receipt. He said his only transgression was that by giving one of them half a million crowns in cash he had violated the law by exceeding the limit on a cash payment. Mr. Bárta who tendered his resignation of Friday, said he was determined to clear his name and return to high politics.
A mass was celebrated in the Church of St. Jilji in Prague on Sunday to commemorate the victims of the Smolensk air disaster on April 10, 2010, which struck down the country’s elite including Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and 94 top ranking Polish officials and dignitaries on their way to Katyn to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret police in the first months of World War Two. The mass was celebrated by Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka, and attended by the Polish ambassador to Prague, members of the Polish community and friends of Poland.
Efforts to extinguish a fire at a plastic waste disposal factory in Chropyne, Moravia, continued for a third day on Sunday. Firefighters have managed to contain the blaze and protect nearby buildings, but isolated smaller fires are still springing up is some parts of the gutted factory. The emergency operation was complicated by a series of gas explosions on the site of the plant. Three hundred people living in the close vicinity were evacuated on Friday after heavy toxic fumes filled the air. It is not clear when they will be able to return to their homes. Forty fire crews were called to the site of the accident.
Trash metal legends Slayer and Megadeth are to perform in Prague’s O2 arena on April 10th within their European Carnage Tour 2011. The bands first performed live in the Czech Republic last year at the Sonisphere festival in Milovice, together with Anthrax and Metallica. Tickets are from 700 to 1300 crowns.
The future of the Czech coalition government is uncertain after a
corruption scandal in the junior Public Affairs party broke coalition
ranks. After the resignation of the central figure embroiled in the
Transport Minister Vít Bárta on Friday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas
announced his own plans for damage control, saying that Public Affairs
leader, Interior Minister Radek John and Education Minister Josef Dobeš
would also have to quit their posts. The Civic Democratic Party and TOP 09
have said the government reshuffle is not negotiable and they would insist
on it even if it were to lead to the fall of the pro-reform government.
The Public Affairs party shook in its foundations last week when two of its prominent members filed charges against Mr. Bárta, seen as the unofficial party boss, saying that he had bribed them in order to buy their loyalty and prevent them from questioning the party’s financing. Independently of them the media produced information indicating that the former owner of the biggest detective agency in the country ABL had established the political party in order to wield more power and did not have a problem tailing political rivals to achieve his goals. Mr. Bárta, who sold the ABL detective agency to his brother shortly after entering high politics, has denied the claims. Although he resigned from the post of transport minister on Friday he says he intends to clear his name and run for the post of party chairman.
The Public Affairs leadership, which met to debate the deepening government crisis on Saturday, said the planned government reshuffle must affect all parties. Party leader and Interior Minister Radek John said that he and Education Minister Josef Dobes were prepared to leave their posts on condition that the prime minister also dismisses Defense Minister Alexander Vondra from the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek and Agriculture Minister Ivan Fuksa, also from the Civic Democrats –all of whom he said were linked to dubious contracts past and present. He said that if the prime minister wanted a clean slate the “presumption of guilt” must apply to all ministers in the government.
At a meeting of the Civic Democratic Party leadership on Saturday Prime
Minister Necas sharply rejected Public Affairs’ demand for three more
dismissals, saying he would not be pushed into some kind of barter deal to
satisfy the junior coalition party. Mr. Necas said the cabinet reshuffle
had proposed was in reaction to the scandal racking the Public Affairs
party and that more changes in the cabinet would be made in due time. He
moreover stressed that even had it not been for the present scandal
Interior Minister Radek John would have been dismissed for poor
The party leadership on Saturday expressed full support for the conditions set down by Prime Minister Petr Nečas particularly that of cleansing the cabinet of people linked directly or indirectly with the detective agency ABL. Both the Civic Democrats and the second party in government TOP 09 have indicated that they would be prepared to continue working in coalition with Public Affairs but only with a cleansed party, with people who would not act as puppets to the present leaders. One of the options also on the table is that the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 could continue as a minority government with support from some Public Affairs or former Public Affairs deputies. However it is not clear how many would be willing to do that. Although the Public Affairs Party has now ostensible closed ranks around its leaders – its members’ allegiances are uncertain as is the situation within the party.
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