The Czech president’s summer power play comes to an end

Czech Prime Minister and ANO movement chairman, Andrej Babis (R) and Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leader Jan Hamacek (L) speak to media after a meeting with Czech President Milos Zeman. Politicians tried to solve the dispute over the resignation of the Minister of Culture, which threatens the leaving of CSSD from the coalition and the end of the government. [EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK ]

The latest Czech government crisis is over: President Miloš Zeman will appoint Lubomír Zaorálek as the new minister of culture on Tuesday (27 August), ending a dispute over the post that almost caused a collapse of the government. However, the crisis has exposed the deteriorating state of democracy in the country.

The dispute over the new minister of culture has been ongoing for more than 100 days. Zeman dismissed Antonín Staněk (ČSSD) at the end of July, two months after he had received the proposal, and postponed the final decision on the new culture minister until mid-August.

The left-wing Social Democrats (ČSSD) had repeatedly threatened to walk out of the coalition with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ ANO movement unless their vice president Michal Šmarda was appointed culture minister.

Last Wednesday, Zeman said Šmarda was not professionally suited for the post and asked ČSSD to propose another candidate. Prime Minister Babiš also refused Šmarda, who withdrew his candidacy on Monday.

“We all want to finally solve this long-standing problem,” Babiš said and added that he has already asked Zeman to speed up the whole process so the government can work at full speed.

The case of the culture minister is not the ruling coalition’s only problem. There are ongoing disputes over the state budget or the prime minister’s conflict of interests.

Will the government of Andrej Babiš survive again?

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš survived a no-confidence vote on 27 June, but his coalition government is torn by internal strife and appears to be nearer the end than at any point in its past 12 months in office.

Some members of ČSSD demand the resignation of party chairman Jan Hamáček, who they believe had failed in negotiating the post of the minister of culture.

What does this summer theatre mean?

“Miloš Zeman’s victory over the ČSSD and Babiš is a severe defeat for the Czech Republic. It is a victory of the president, who is not interested in any rules and by constantly violating the Constitution moves the Czech Republic towards the semi-presidential system,” said TOP 09 chairman Jiří Pospíšil.

Analysts believe there is no political force that would set the president clear limits and prevent him from exceeding the constitutional division of power in the Czech Republic.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš cannot represent a strong opposition to Zeman. Accusations of conflict of interest with regard to EU funds have sparked massive street protests and demonstrations. A presidential pardon could be the last chance for Babiš to avoid jail.

The final decision on the fraud charges against him and a report on his conflicts of interests will be issued this month.

Other members of the opposition are not satisfied with the current situation either. “On the one hand, the Social Democrats say the president is violating the Constitution and at the same time giving way to his whims. I want to remind that this crisis has been going on for 100 days,” said the leader of the STAN party, Vít Rakušan.

The leader of the Pirate Party, Ivan Bartoš, does not see the end of the government crisis yet.

“The Šmarda case began when the Chamber of Deputies discussed the government’s confidence because of the audits of the European Commission on the prime minister’s conflict of interests and the unauthorised use of [EU] subsidies,” wrote Bartoš.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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