It’s costlier to allow rats to breed than to buy and feed a cat
COMMENTARY by István Léko/ Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas ousted his justice minister and fellow Civic Democrat (ODS) Jiří Pospíšil on Wednesday morning without warning — and apparent provocation. It appears he caved in to pressure within his party, but the majority of voters will likely come out against the move. In fact, Nečas has made the biggest mistake of his political career.
Not only have the leftist opposition questioned the stated reasons for Pospíšil’s recall (that the prime minister had lost faith in his ability to manage his ministry’s budget in a time of austerity) but members of the coalition government do not believe it to be true and neither do most of the Czech public.
The justice minister’s ouster was in fact the culmination of a nearly two-year long political drama around control of the public prosecutors offices. It comes at a time when voters had enthusiastically welcomed Pospíšil’s purging of cronies in the judiciary system, in particular former Chief Prague Prosecutor Vlastimil Rampula, and the concurrent hope that perhaps for the first time since 1989 the maxim “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” could become the modus operandi.
Moreover, the 36-yaer-old Pospíšil is the only ODS vice chairman with the potential to take control of the reins in the near future. If he remains in politics and the party, his popularity will only continue to grow.
But let’s return to the professed reason for his dismissal. Pospíšil had repeatedly called for budget increase of Kč 1 billion for his ministry, saying that without this extra money the Czech prison system would be under unsustainable strain. Nečas should have supported him, especially when the fight against corruption and the theft of state and EU funds would yield far greater returns, and cost far more still if neglected. It’s costlier to allow rats to breed than to buy and feed a cat. Or are the rats themselves the pets of the ODS?
Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman says he has heard tell that some top ODS politicians are dead against Rampula being replaced as Chief Prague Prosecutor by Lenka Bradáčová (whom Pospíšil has said he intended to name to the post this Friday). Indeed, she has sharp claws that would send the rats into a panic.
There is a palpable foreboding among circles around the Prague “godfathers” that within six months of her term, all would be lost. Accusing fingers have already been pointed at Nečas — who campaign on a zero tolerance for corruption ticket — for siding with these players behind-the-scenes. Nečas, who upon becoming ODS chairman in 2010 was seen as Mr Clean is now thought to have dirtied his hands.
Will the government survive?
We will be watching carefully how Pospíšil and his closes associates in the ODS and Ministry of Justice respond to his recall. Thus far, he seems to have taken it very personally. The young politician has a reputation as a media darling, and if the press continues to portray his ouster as a direct result of his efforts to clean up the judiciary branch and aggressively go after corruption cases “though the heavens fall,” including through the sacking of Rampula and intention to replace him with Bradáčová, then he will have a political trump card in upcoming battles with Nečas.
Indeed, Nečas will now need to grant the request of Zeman and install Bradáčová in the post of Chief Prague Prosecutor if he wants to save face and the Mr Clean moniker. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (both of TOP 09, a junior party in the coalition government) have called upon him to do just that. However, this is not likely to happen. So the question is not so much who will be named justice minister in Pospíšil’s place but whether the center-right government will survive the political crisis.