The parties of the emerging coalition –the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats –say Saturday’s talks were fruitful and brought significant progress on policy matters. Several issues remain unresolved in the area of taxes and health care, with agreement reached on scrapping direct payments for medical care. The three parties also agreed they would all have the right of veto on proposed legislation. The division of ministerial posts has been shelved due to the temporary absence of Christian Democrat leader Pavel Belobrádek. The parties hope to conclude talks on policy issues by next Tuesday but they have so far made no official commitment to enter into a coalition.
Outgoing Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok has become a target of ridicule
after his conversation with cabinet ministers was caught on tape in the
lower house. Using expressive language, Mr. Rusnok complained that he did
not feel like flying all the way to South Africa to attend Nelson
Mandela’s funeral and expressed the hope that President Zeman would want
to go instead. The conversation was picked up by Czech TV microphones and
its transcript caused an uproar on news sites and social networks. The
prime minister later apologized for his words saying he was under immense
The Czech Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that it was not yet clear who would attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The President’s Office said President Zeman would not be travelling abroad since he had not yet fully recovered from his knee injury.
Former education minister Petr Fiala has confirmed his candidacy for party leader at the Civic Democrats election conference in January. Mr. Fiala, who only joined the Civic Democratic Party recently, is perceived as a capable and trustworthy figure who can help turn around the party’s fortunes in the wake of a crushing defeat in the last general elections. The former rector of Masaryk University, who is not connected to the party’s crippling corruption scandals or aborted promises, said on Saturday that he had decided to accept the challenge and try to bring the party out of its drawn-out crisis. The conference will take place on January 17 -18 and Mr. Fiala is expected to have two rivals for the top post – deputy chairwoman Miroslava Němcová who shoulders the burden of the party’s past failures and MEP Eduard Kožušník.
The centre-right TOP 09 party, which is now also in the opposition, is holding a party conference in Prague. Delegates will be electing a new leadership and discussing TOP 09s strategy as an opposition party. Party leader Karel Schwarzenberg, who is expected to defend his position as party chair, said that the party’s main role would now be to defend parliamentary democracy and democracy as such in the Czech Republic. He said that despite the fact that the party only received 12 percent in October’s general elections he was extremely pleased that TOP 09 was supported to a large extent by the young generation.
The construction firm Metrostav on Saturday halted work on the unfinished Blanka tunnel complex under construction in Prague. The construction firm claims it is owed 2.1 billion crowns by Prague City Hall for work already completed and has handed the matter over to an arbitration court. The tunnel is being conserved and it is not clear how long it may be before work on it is restored. City Hall claims the contract with Metrostav was invalid from the start and say they are unable to transfer any more funds. The cost of conserving the tunnel, which was expected to open next year, has been estimated at 1.6 billion crowns annually.
Repair work on power lines continues in the wake of extensive damage caused by gale-force winds in the past 24 hours. The force of the wind, which reached 140km per/h in places, has now abated but the situation is complicated by snow and icy roads. Police have warned drivers heading for the mountain regions to exercise extreme caution.
MP Martin Komárek of the ANO party has floated the idea that spirits should be banned on the premises of the lower house of Parliament. Mr. Komárek expressed the view that there was no reason for deputies to drink spirits at work and beer or wine with lunch or dinner should suffice. Although other ANO deputies have backed the idea, it has evoked little enthusiasm among others with the Speaker of Parliament Jan Hamáček saying he was prepared to discuss it but personally saw no reason to effect any changes in this respect. A previous attempt to ban spirits was short-lived. It came in the wake of an incident in which the former Civic Democrat MP Petr Kott got so drunk he had to be physically carried out of Parliament.
The Czech lower house on Friday approved a draft of the state budget for 2014 in the so-called first reading, sending it for debates in the house committees. The draft budget has a projected deficit of 112 billion crowns which would leave the gap in public spending below 3 percent of GDP. It is based on growth expectations of 1.3 percent, which would bring an additional four to five billion crowns in tax revenues to state coffers. The parties of the emerging government coalition – the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats – have said they would like to see the budget approved by the end of the year.
Czech top officials have expressed condolences on the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela who passed away on Thursday. President Miloš Zeman expressed great respect for the man who spent a large part of his life in prison fighting an unfair regime; the head of the Social Democrats and the likely next prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Nelson Mandela was a courageous and resilient man who lived to see his ideals come true. In a statement, the Czech Foreign Ministry said that South Africa’s first democratic president, was an extraordinary personality of the 20th century, a symbol of struggle for human rights and against the apartheid.
Gale-force winds of up to 140 km/h damaged power lines around the country leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity supplies. The worst damage is reported in the north of the country where strong winds were accompanied by heavy snow in the higher altitudes. Many roads were closed to traffic on Friday morning due to fallen trees and Czech Railways reported delays in several train connections. Drivers have been warned to exercise extreme caution.