Klaus says latest scandal twist is ‘last straw’

President Klaus has convened coalition party leaders after saying the latest twist in the political crisis went beyond his patience

HOT TOP|Politics & Policy
Chris Johnstone | 14.04.2011
Klaus says his patience with the political intrigues and allegations has run out

President Václav Klaus has convened a meeting of coalition party leaders for Thursday after saying last night that the latest twist in the government coalition crisis — the publication of a secret recording in which a former high-ranking Public Affairs (VV) deputy said members of the senior coalition party, the Civic Democrats (ODS), had planned a government ‘putsch’ over the past nine months — had exhausted his patience.

“The events of this afternoon on our political scene exceed all tolerable limits. This is the last straw,” Klaus said in a hastily called press conference on Wednesday night, referring to the recording of ex-VV parliamentary group leader Kristýana Kočí.

The three-party coalition government (ODS-VV-TOP 09) is on the verge of collapse, with the parties fighting to retain ministerial posts for their respective members while demanding the resignation of others. Klaus said he had called the center-right coalition’s leaders to his Prague Castle offices on Thursday morning to map a way out of the crisis, sparked last week by revelations of secret “cash for loyalty” payments within the VV via its de facto leader, outgoing Transport Minister Vít Bárta. There is speculation that the ODS and TOP 09 will try to form a government without VV.

There is speculation that the ODS and TOP 09 will try to form a government without VV, which remains in the spotlight due to the suspect practices of Bárta’s former security and detective agency, ABL. The latest twist of events has added another layer of dirt in an ever more murky tale of sharp political practice and intrigue.  

In a secret recording leaked to the media, Kočí is caught telling VV party members and sponsors that the ODS had prepared the coalition “putsch” over the previous nine months, the aim of which was allegedly to get VV members to quit the party and join the ODS and force out Bárta and official VV chairman Interior Minister Radek John.

After the publication of the tapes, Kočí said she had lied on purpose to expose methods used within the VV and knew that the conversation was being secretly taped, pointing out that she hadn’t even been elected to parliament nine months ago. (Her explanation mirrored that of fellow ex-VV deputy Jaroslav Škárka, who comments caught on tape triggered the “cash for loyalty” scandal; he later retracted his claim that he knew he was being recorded and had sought to confuse the journalist.) 

Putsches, plots

Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) denied his party has been involved in a long-term plot, but the allegations against the Civic Democrats have already led to suggestions that this could cushion the blow VV suffers in any ensuing Cabinet re-shuffle.

In his press conference on Wednesday, Klaus referred to allegations of bugging, secret recordings and deliberate lies, saying that they “extended the depths of the current coalition crisis in a fundamental fashion.” He said trust in the coalition government — and whole political system — had been seriously damaged and that was the reason he could not stand by as events unfurled.

The stakes in the crisis, originally sparked by revelations that VV party paymaster Bárta was paying fellow members of Parliament, were raised when Nečas called for John and Education Minister Josef Dobeš (VV) to be dismissed from the Cabinet along with Bárta. John dug in his heels and said this could only happen within a wider reshuffle in which he called for the dismissal of TOP 09’s deputy leader, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, and two ODS ministers: Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra and Agriculture Minister Ivan Fuksa. Otherwise, John threatened VV would vote against the government in a no-confidence vote and bring the government down. 

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