Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka clashed openly with President Miloš Zeman
on Thursday over the ongoing government crisis. The prime minister who came
to inform the head of state about his decision to tender his government’s
resignation and discuss ways of resolving the political crisis, received a
snub from Mr. Zeman who blamed him for precipitating the crisis and said he
had expected to receive his resignation in writing. Mr. Sobotka said he
intended to hand over the letter of resignation only after the
president’s return from a state visit to China which is scheduled for May
11 –May 18. He further stressed that his resignation should be
interpreted as the demise of the whole cabinet. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel
Belobradek confirmed earlier in the day that the president had commissioned
a legal analysis to see whether he could interpret the resignation as that
of the prime minister alone.
The prime minister unexpectedly announced his decision to bring down the government on Tuesday over suspicions that Finance Minister Andrej Babiš may have engaged in financial transactions aimed at avoiding paying taxes which he was unable to dispel. Mr. Babiš refused to go of his own accord and sacking him was complicated by the existing coalition agreement.
The Czech economy is stable and highly resilient to political turbulences on the domestic scene, the governor of the central bank, Jiří Rusnok, told reporters on Thursday in connection with the government crisis. The central bank on Thursday published a new macro-economic forecast which predicts a growth of 2.9 percent in 2017. The one uncertainty at the present time is the Czech crown following the bank’s decision to end three years of forex interventions, Mr. Rusnok said. He noted that economic and political uncertainty abroad had a bigger impact on the Czech crown than upheavals on the home front.
Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaorálek on Thursday outlined the Czech Republic’s priorities for its upcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The foreign minister highlighted the need to protect the human rights of persons belonging to vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, strengthen the rule of law, support local and regional democracy and public administration reforms, promote human rights education and boost cooperation with other international organizations. The minister also presented the Czech Republic’s logo for the chairmanship which is to last from May till November 2017.
ANO leader Andrej Babiš says he will file a criminal complaint in connection with a number of leaked recordings of his phone calls. The finance minister claims he was been followed and wiretapped for months within an orchestrated slander campaign against him. The recordings appeared on YouTube and Twitter this week. In one of them Babiš is heard speaking to a journalist from the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, part of the Mafra group that he owned but was forced to put into a trust fund in order to meet the conditions of a new conflict of interest law, about sensitive information on a number of politicians, including the prime minister, and advising the journalist against publishing it immediately since it could be used to better effect ahead of the autumn general elections. Babis did not deny the authenticity of the recordings. A number of the daily’s senior reporters resigned in the wake of the revelations.
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.
Police have been raiding the headquarters of the Czech Union of Sport in connection with a case of suspected fund fraud at the Education Ministry, Czech Radio reported Thursday. The Union’s head Miroslav Jansta was detained along with several others. Three offices have reportedly been sealed. Similar raids took place at the headquarters of the Czech Football Association on Wednesday in which three people were detained, among them the head of the association, Miroslav Pelta. Police have not yet released details of the case.
In football, Sigma Olomouc have secured their return to top Czech football and the first division. The second division leaders won promotion with a 4:1 win against Znojmo. That puts them 16 points ahead of the third placed club with only five games remaining. The win against Znojmo was the seventh straight victory in a row for Sigma.
Police swooped on Wednesday on the headquarters of the Czech Football Association at Prague’s Strahov stadium. The action was confirmed by football association spokesman Michal Jurman. Police were reported by the Czech Press Agency to be searching offices with the staff excluded in a nearby restaurant. Police later said the swoop was connected with an investigation of suspected funding fraud at the education ministry in which three people have been charged. The web site of daily Sport said that the football association head, Miroslav Pelta, was one of those arrested. Police also visited his Jablonec club in the north of the country. Pelta's lawyer later said he had not been charged but had cooperated with police in teling them where to find documents.