Anti-government protests sweep Czech Republic

Thousands gathered in Prague and other Czech cities on Wednesday (10 May) for protests against Vice-Prime Minister Babiš and President Zeman, claiming they will continue to demonstrate until both politicians resign. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

An estimated 20,000 people protested in Prague yesterday against Czech Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš and President Miloš Zeman amid a deepening political crisis stemming from suspicions of tax fraud committed by Babiš.

The demonstration took place in Wenceslas Square, one of the most popular spots in Prague, historically connected with the Velvet Revolution and the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

Around 4,000 people gathered in the country’s second largest city, Brno and hundreds demonstrated in Olomouc, Pilsen, České Budějovice and Liberec.

The protests came as a result of a Facebook post by activist Šárka Fialová as part of the Politics and Conscience initiative, which claims to be independent of political parties.

“This is an attempt to show at the eleventh hour that there are a lot of people disagreeing with the oligarchic manners of Mr. Babiš, and the behaviour of Mr. Zeman, which cannot be described in a polite way,” the organisers said in the post.

They called for another demonstration on Thursday evening (11 May) and said the protests will go on until their requirements are met. According to the organisers, Babiš should resign and should not be replaced with anyone else from his political movement ANO 2011, and President Zeman should leave his post for not fulfilling his obligations.

The Czech political crisis has been evolving for more than a week now:

Tuesday 2 May: Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, of the Social Democratic party (CSSD), was expected to give his position on tax fraud allegedly committed by Andrej Babiš. According to Sobotka, Babiš failed to explain the origin of his fortune and he could not stay in the government anymore.

However, Sobotka surprisingly announced the resignation of the entire government, not just the dismissal of Babiš. In his view, the dismissal would help the minister during the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. “I do not want Babiš to be a martyr,” Sobotka said. Elections are expected in October.

Wednesday 3 May: The situation became even tenser as an anonymous Twitter account published a controversial audio recording that shows Babiš manipulated the media he owned until February 2017.

Czech President Miloš Zeman also suggested – despite the opinion of most Czech constitutional lawyers and political scientists – that the resignation of the premier does not automatically mean the resignation of the entire government.

Thursday 4 May: Due to new circumstances, Prime Minister Sobotka postponed his cabinet´s formal resignation until the second half of May.

Earlier that day, President Zeman stated that he would welcome the prime Minister’s resignation as soon as possible. He even accepted Sobotka at Prague Castle and arranged everything for the official resignation. Zeman thanked him for his work, wishing him good luck in his future career and personal life.

However, Sobotka did not come to Prague Castle to resign, but to discuss the situation with the president. He announced a postponement of his resignation and protested the president´s behaviour. After that, Zeman walked out of the festive room and left Sobotka speaking to journalists alone.

Friday 5 May: Sobotka decided not to resign. Instead, he announced the dismissal of Minister Babiš. President Zeman accused Sobotka of making the crisis even worse and stated that he will deal with the dismissal proposal after his planned trip to China, in two weeks.

Saturday 6 May: Babiš posted on Facebook that his meeting with a journalist was a mistake, but he also called this meeting a planned provocation. Babiš says he will not give up and will “fight further”.

Monday 8 May: Another audio recording was leaked. In this one, Babiš discusses a police file that could harm Sobotka´s political party.

Tuesday 9 May: President Zeman announced that before accepting the dismissal of the finance minister, it is necessary to denounce the coalition agreement. Many constitutional lawyers and political scientists said that this requirement is unacceptable because according to the Czech constitution, the president must accept the prime minister´s proposal for a dismissal.

Wednesday 10 May: The Czech senate warned President Zeman that non-compliance with the constitution, which says a president must recall a minister when the premier proposes it, could lead to impeachment.