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Czech Republic: Nomination of new Culture Minister signals end to months-long political saga

Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech political saga of the summer might finally be drawing to a close, as a new Culture Minister appears to be on the verge of being appointed.

Lubomír Zaorálek poised to become Czech Culture Minister

Lubomír Zaorálek, an ex-Foreign Minister under the previous government and former deputy-chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is his party’s new pick for Culture Minister, party leader Jan Hamáček said on Wednesday.

His announcement came only two days after the Social Democrats’ previous pick, Michal Šmarda, withdrew his candidacy for the post of Culture Minister when Prime Minister Babis refused to back him, bringing once more the minority government on the edge of collapse. By doing so, he also called for the Social Democrats to leave the government.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who met with Zaorálek on Thursday, said he had no problem with the choice and had sent an official request to the office of the President.

Presidential spokesman Jiří Ovčáček indicated that Milos Zeman also agreed with the pick and would meet with the CSSD nominee on Monday at the Lany presidential residence before officially appointing him.

A months-long political saga that threatened to topple the government

These new developments appear to put an end to a saga that has been drawing out for months and threatened to topple the government.

Under fire for his controversial decision to sack two prominent heads of Czech cultural institutions and art galleries, former Culture Minister Antonin Stanek (CSSD) was forced to resign in May.

Although legally obliged to appoint a new minister if the PM makes an official request, President Milos Zeman had refused to accept the resignation of M. Stanek.

Although he eventually agreed, the head of state, whom many argue was overstepping his constitutional powers to increase his influence as a behind-the-scenes power-broker, still refused to appoint the Social Democrats’ new pick for the post, M. Šmarda.

The Social Democrats threatened to leave the government on several occasions if Zeman continued to reject their nominee, arguing it violated their coalition agreement with Prime Minister Babis’ ANO party.

In the end, the Czech President might have emerged as the winner of the face-off, appearing to use his influence and the weakness of the PM and government to “push the Czech Republic towards a quasi-presidential political system”.

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