Prague, Czech Republic – It’s been a busy week for the Czech government, and yes, it’s only Wednesday. While the Czech Republic is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel and started, on Monday, to ease some anti-COVID restrictions after “hellish” weeks, the government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) is treading on very thin ice.
With crucial parliamentary elections only a few months away, political infighting and personal feuds are weakening an already frail coalition.
Musical chairs at the Czernin Palace
On Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek (CSSD) was dismissed from his position by President Milos Zeman, at the request of deputy Prime Minister and CSSD leader Jan Hamacek.
The controversial sacking came after Petricek unsuccessfully challenged Hamacek for the post of party chairman during the Social Democratic party’s national conference over the week-end.
Hamacek quickly faced a wave of criticism, with critics accusing him of creating governmental chaos at a time of national crisis, of giving in to personal feuding and of dismissing Petricek without a replacement. Initially tipped to take his place, Culture Minister Lubomir Zaoralek turned down the offer on Tuesday.
M. Zeman had previously called for the removal of M. Petricek, who often acted as counterweight to the president’s notoriously pro-Russian and pro-Chinese “alternate diplomacy”.
An all-too symbolic sign of the growing tensions, Jan Hamacek – who was now simultaneously deputy Prime Minister, Interior Minister, acting Foreign Minister and head of the coronavirus task force – is reported to have collapsed yesterday from exhaustion and intense pressure.
China in, Communists out?
The Czech political roller-coaster doesn’t end here, however, and continued with the controversial nomination of Jakub Kulhánek to take over the Foreign Ministry.
Deputy Interior Minister until now, M. Kulhánek was a former employee of the well-known Chinese conglomerate CEFC, whose buying spree in recent years has been at the heart of numerous controversies against the backdrop of growing Chinese influence in the Czech Republic, spearheaded by President Zeman and his entourage. If confirmed, his nomination will no doubt raise a few eyebrows, both at home and among the Czech Republic’s European and Western allies.
Finally, the Czech Communist Party announced on Wednesday that it was putting an end to its so-called “pact of tolerance” with the minority government formed by ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD), with chairman Vojtěch Filip saying they had lost faith in Prime Minister Babis’ ruling coalition.
According to the agreement, the Czech Communists did not directly participate in the coalition, but supported the government on key votes and policies.
Although PM Babis tried to minimize the impact of the decision, his minority government now appears more fragile than ever, facing the multiple threat of growing popular discontent, internal infighting and an increasingly organized opposition less than six months before the next elections.