Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has rejected a proposal by coalition partner Ano to replace Finance Minister Andrej Babis with his deputy minister Alena Schillerova. The move prolongs the constitutional and political crisis gripping the country.
The prime minister, who is struggling to revive the fortunes of his CSSD party to catch Babis’ Ano ahead of elections set for October, has called for the billionaire finance minister to be sacked over claims of financial impropriety. However, Sobotka has faced resistance from President Milos Zeman, who 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.
The Machiavellian games continue, however. Sobotka has insisted that a replacement for Babis at the finance ministry must not be closely connected to the billionaire’s Agrofert corporation. Whilst Schillerova is not part of the country’s largest private employer, she is very closely associated with Babis himself, and could arguably block the ongoing tax probes against her party leader.
Sobotka has now said he will not accept the nomination because Schillerova is unqualified and would represent the “extended arm” of Babis. The prime minister has asked Ano to propose another candidate.
"Ministers don't grow on trees," retorted Babis. The Ano head said the party will offer another candidate by May 17. However, he was careful to flag up the danger connected to Sobotka’s move. The PM’s stance is making it harder to solve the government crisis, he claimed.
Sobotka is in a tough position. On the one hand, should he accept Schillerova, he risks looking weak, with Zeman and Babis able to claim to have rigged a compromise. On the other, with the country in political limbo, he risks alienating more voters by playing hardball.
“He will need to offer a very good explanation to the public,” suggests political commentator Jiri Pehe. “However, the main thing for Sobotka is to have the finance ministry probe the accusations of financial impropriety against Babis “It may be that he wants to eventually end up in charge at the ministry himself for the interim.”
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