Tension flares again within Czech coalition

By bne IntelliNews June 18, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

 

Tension has flared up again in the Czech ruling coalition with the government leading Social Democrats (CSSD) and main partner Ano hurling insults and accusations of corruption at one another. 

CSSD released official statements on June 18 accusing the finance minister, Ano leader and billionaire Andrei Babis of acting like an agent of the Communist-era secret police StB. The barb was particularly pointed, as Babis only last year managed in a legal battle to get his name removed from files suggesting he had been an StB operative in the 1980s.

The spat comes on the back of efforts by CSSD deputies to resurrect the ongoing criticism that Babis - who owns a business empire including agricultural, chemicals and media assets - has huge conflicts of interest. CSSD backbencher Ladislav Sincl has asked the finance minister to explain his change of tack on a bill that would limit the earnings of insurance brokerages. Media reports say that Babis' brother recently acquired a licence to operate an insurance brokerage. 

Sincl complained that on June 16 that Babis had accused him and his family of corruption and intimidated him by waving documents around parliament, CTK reports. 

In an apparent bid to press home an advantage, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka - who has seen the newly-formed Ano lead the CSSD in opinion polls ever since the October 2013 election - harshly criticised Babis. 

The increasingly powerful finance minister's behaviour was "unprecedented and totally unacceptable," the PM claimed, and called on Babis to apologize. Sobotka said he would convene a meeting of the coalition leaders to discuss the issue. 

The CSSD party was quick to land another blow, as it seeks to erode Ano's lead in the polls, with the senior party having seen a steady - but slow - recovery in its approval ratings over the past 12 months or so. 

"Ministers have to face criticism from members of parliament and citizens. They cannot react to it in a way reminding of the infamous practices of the former Communist secret police," the party said in a resolution. 

The dispute comes less than a month after the government survived a no-confidence vote forced by the opposition over Babis' conflicts of interest. However, the coalition itself, despite common sniping amongst the major partners, has proved remarkably stable to date, especially considering the tricky geopolitical environment and the meddling of President Milos Zeman. 

 

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