Reducing the political tension in the country a little, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka accepted on May 17 the nomination of a new finance minister from coalition partner Ano. Meanwhile, thousands took to the streets of the country’s major cities for a second week to protest what they see as the scheming of Ano leader and departing finance minister Andrej Babis with President Milos Zeman.
The acceptance of Ivan Pilny to fill the post, at least until scheduled elections in October, comes a couple of days after Sobotka rejected Deputy Finance Minister Alena Schillerova for the role. That extended the constitutional crisis in the country.
The PM has called for billionaire Babis to be sacked over claims of financial impropriety. President Zeman, however, has been backing the billionaire in order, critics argue, to assist his own re-election vote in January. Faced with protests and threats that he could be forced to comply with Sobotka’s demand to sack Babis by the Constitutional Court, the head of state has now suggested he will do so.
However, Sobotka needs to make the accusations against Babis stick, and for that he needs the finance ministry to probe the Ano leader’s financial moves. The main claim is that Babis exploited a loophole to evade taxes on bonds issued by his own Agrofert corporation – the country’s largest private employer.
Sobotka refused to accept the earlier nomination because Schillerova is unqualified and would represent the “extended arm” of Babis, he insisted. “Ministers don't grow on trees,” retorted the finance minister, being careful to add that the PM’s stance is making it harder to solve the government crisis.
A member of the centrist but populist Ano, Pilny currently leads the economic affairs committee in the lower house of parliament. Once Babis is sacked, he will be free to start throwing his huge wealth into the forthcoming election campaign, as well as laying into Sobotka’s coalition-leading Czech Social Democratic Party. Sobotka, meanwhile, will need to press hard to persuade voters that the Ano leader has a murky financial track record.
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