Calls have been made for the heads of (from left to right) Josef Dobeš (Education), Jiří Pospíšil (Justice), Leoš Heger (Health), Jan Kubice (Interior), Martin Kocourek (Trade and Industry) and Alexandr Vondra (Defense)
Justice, Education, Interior, Health and Defense: Five ministries whose leaders are most frequently mentioned as likely candidates for the chopping block. In recent weeks, numerous politicians and state officials have told Czech Position that a Cabinet reshuffle is looming while noting that Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats, ODS) himself is not pushing for the dismissal of any ministers.
Nečas, often criticized as a weak leader, did show he is capable of such a move, though, with the surprise and swift sacking of Agriculture Minister Ivan Fuksa ahead of the party congress of the ODS, the senior partner in the government coalition with TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV), in October. Speculation that arose at the time that more heads will roll has been kept alive in part because Nečas did not rule it out; perhaps it was his way of keeping the ministers on their toes.
According to well-placed sources in government circles, those most likely to go are three ODS ministers — Jiří Pospíšil (Justice), Alexandr Vondra (Defense) and Leoš Heger (Health) — as well as the unaffiliated Jan Kubice (Interior), who has himself asked to be recalled. The government could also try to sack VV’s Josef Dobeš (Education), but he is close to Czech President Václav Klaus.
The list was expanded last week to include another ODS man, Martin Kocourek (Industry and Trade), on news that his mother invested an unexplained sum of more than Kč 16 million which is now under investigation by the central bank and other authorities, back in 2008 when he was on the board of state-controlled power group ČEZ.
Previously, Kocourek had stood in good stead with Nečas, but due to media pressure, the prime minister had little choice but to demand a full explanation (which he is due to hear on Tuesday) of how the minister’s mother came to get that money and place it with dodgy investment group Key Investments, and he will be under pressure to recall him if there is a hint of implausibility (or ethical impropriety) to the story. TOP 09 ministers (Finance, Foreign Affairs) appear secure but Leoš Heger (Health) does not enjoy quite the same status.
On the surface, this arrangement makes no sense for Nečas – apart from getting rid of Dobeš — so observers are left to guess at his motivation; it appears that it is Bárta who is pushing the prime minister for this arrangement. In any case, the Cabinet reshuffle will not come in one fell swoop (there will be no “night of the long knives”), party sources and others say, with the fate of individual ministers still subject to much debate.
An education, or lessons in law
Jiří Pospíšil (Justice), an ODS vice chairman, is considered the center-right party’s media star. He is regularly named among the most popular politicians in public opinion polls and appears in televised discussions pitted against his counterpart from the main opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD), Jiří Dientsbier. Even so, he is not one of the untouchables, with calls for his dismissal coming from within the ranks of the ODS itself. While for some Pospíšil is seen as a dandy more concerned about his public image than on policy, for others he is a dangerous zealot in pursuit of justice.
While for some Pospíšil is seen as a dandy more concerned about his public image than about policy, for others he is a dangerous zealot in pursuit of justice. Chief Prosecutor Pavel Zeman, whom Pospíšil appointed, has embarked on an anti-corruption crusade with unprecedented vigor. Some in the ODS were none too pleased by his recall of the Chief Prosecutor in Prague, Vlastimil Rampula, nor the impending departure of his key deputy, Libor Grygárek.
Pospíšil further clashed with the prime minister over planned changes in the law on the State Prosecutor. It appears the minister is holding on to his seat thanks to support from the legal community, which perceives his tenure in office as beneficial. But if he were to go, who would replace him? The name most often put forth is Prague ODS deputy Marek Benda, who is a loyal member of the Nečas camp.
Perhaps more realistic, though, would be Karolína Peake (VV), the current deputy prime minister tasked with coordinating the fight against corruption. Were this to happen, the smallest party in the governing coalition would gain enormous influence over the judiciary. Two things stand in the way: the prime minister would look foolish to have twice replaced ministers from his own party within such a short time, and it is unclear what he stands to gain. Bárta and Nečas would also be at pains to explain why they bothered to create a separate bureaucratic grouping for Peake if she would only be in that role for a few short months.