Convicted former transport minister Vít Bárta will not resign as a member of parliament. Mr Bárta was found guilty on Friday of attempting to constrain party MPs with offers of personal loans and received an 18-month suspended sentence. Prime Minister Petr Nečas and other politicians have called on Bárta to give up his parliamentary mandate. However, Bárta told TV Nova on Saturday that he would not step down until his appeals proceedings were complete. Following the verdict the unofficial party leader gave up his chairmanship of Public Affairs’ club of MPs and discontinued his party membership. MP Jaroslav Škárka, who was sentenced to three-years’ imprisonment for perjury in the same trial, also told Nova that he would not give up his mandate but had resigned from a lower house commission.
Vít Bárta also announced that he would be running for governor in regional elections in Plzeň in the autumn. In a debate programme on Czech Television Mr Bárta said he would try to clear his name by competing with the leaders of the Civic Democrats in Plzeň, Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil and Roman Jurečko, who he believes attempted a coup in Public Affairs one year ago. He said that he wants to continue his work in politics but remain outside of the party he effectively led, so as not to be a burden on it. He has yet to decide whether he will remain a member of the Public Affairs’ club of MPs.
Politicians from across the political spectrum have criticised Mr Bárta’s decision not only to remain in parliament but to run for office. Karolína Peake, a leading member of Mr Bárta’s own Public Affairs party, said it was an "unexpected and likely unfortunate idea”, adding that he should focus on his appeals process. Miroslav Kalousek of the TOP 09 party said the decision was an unpleasant surprise and that his party was not interested in Mr Bárta’s support. Communist leader Vojtěch Filip said Bárta had not kept his word does not want to give up the possibility of controlling the party he had created as an entrepreneurial project. Before the verdict Mr Bárta said that he would leave “high politics” if convicted; on Sunday he said that the position of MP does not fall under that category.
Former Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolánek has called on party members to stand up against concessions that veer from the party’s platform. In a letter to members the former prime minister criticised the party’s current leadership for accepting a seven percent tax increase on those making more than 100,000 a month, which he said was the flagship tax of all leftist, “neo-communist” movements. He added that the party offered nothing, did not have a comprehensible platform, upheld neither freedom nor capitalism and had lost and would continue to lose voters. He also criticised the party for not standing up for former Prague mayor Pavel Bém and ex-environment minister Pavel Drobil, both of whom were involved in wiretapping scandals.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says no further drastic measures will be needed if the Czech economy develops according to his current economic forecast. The Finance Ministry expects a 0.2% rise in GDP this year; for next year it has lowered its growth estimate to 1.3% from the 1.6% forecast in January. The government has frozen budget spending for almost 24 billion this year through higher VAT and lower growth in pensions with the aim of keeping the state budget deficit 105 billion and the public budget deficit at 3.5% of GDP. However, unexpected developments on financial markets could provoke the need for further fiscal measures, the Finance Minister noted.
Some three hundred people have gathered in Prague to support anti-government protests. Similar demonstrations under the so-called Holešovská Appeal have drwn thousands of people in recent weeks. The demonstrators are seeking primarily the resignation of the government and President Klaus, and the rejection of planned reforms, church restitution and the ACTA treaty. Smaller gatherings in support of the movement also took place in other Czech cities on Sunday.
Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl wants to push the EU on allowing the Czech Republic to halt food imports from Poland. The idea stems from recent problems with the quality of some Polish food products. At present the country would risk tough sanctions if it were to ban food imports; Bendl says he at least wants the possibility to exist in the case of public safety being at risk and will present the issue at the next meeting of EU agriculture ministers. In the last few days the Czech Republic criticised Polish authorities for not providing details on an affair involving the use of industrial salt in the Polish food industry.
The Public Affairs party leadership has decided to elect a new chairman after de facto leader Vít Bárta was convicted of corruption of Friday. Current chairman Radek John said he would call a party conference by the end of May and would only put himself forward in the absence of a candidate with a better project. Deputy chair Karolína Peake, who has assumed a leading role in the party in the wake of numerous scandals over the last year, has said she would be in the running for the post. Mr Bárta, who is understood to be the primary decision maker in Public Affairs, suspended his membership on Friday after being sentenced to 18 months of probation for offering MPs personal loans to sway their opinions. The meeting of the leadership also agreed it would put forward a candidate for Minister of Education next week.
In an interview for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, recently-resigned education minister Josef Dobeš said that Public Affairs was a dead party that could not hope for a recovery. Dobeš, who publicly withdrew his membership from Public Affairs last week, said there was no crisis to speak of because the party was already finished and could expect nothing more than local representation in the near future. Its credit as an anti-corruption party was exhausted, he said, adding that while the party itself was not corrupt, its image had become comic. He also said that he felt sorry for Vít Bárta, who had lost everything and without whom it would be impossible to keep the party together.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas will be visiting Albania and Macedonia at the beginning of the week to meet with his counterparts Sali Berisha of Albania and Nikola Gruevský of Macedonia. He be accompanied by a delegation of businessmen and representatives of Czech companies, including energy giant ČEZ, to discuss economic relations. According to the Czech Press Agency Albania in particular is interested in Czech involvement in the hotel, mining and costal restoration industries.
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