Public Affairs’ members of parliament are quitting the party en masse following the departure of deputy chairwoman Karolína Peake. Peake announced Tuesday evening that she had withdrawn her membership from Public Affairs, saying she disliked the destructive style with which Public Affairs presents itself. Within hours, six other Public Affairs members said they would join her in a new platform to support the government: Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš and Regional Development Minister Kamil Jankovský, as well as MPs Paggio, Navrátilová, Andrýsová, Vacek, Suchá and Rusnok. With four other MPs having left the party within the context of Vít Bárta’s corruption scandal and former education minister Josef Dobeš having quit last week, Public Affairs has now lost more than half of its original parliamentarians, creating an uncertain situation for the governing coalition.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas says the government has until Monday to secure a comfortable majority or call early elections. As of Wednesday morning, the number of MPs pledging support for the government was at 99. The prime minister declined to specify what number constituted a “comfortable majority”, made it clear that one or two votes in the 200-seat lower chamber was not enough. He also said that the cabinet would refuse to work with the remainder of Public Affairs if Vít Bárta, who was convicted of bribery last week, remained in their parliamentarians’ club. While allowing that anyone who agreed with the government’s policies could be in the coalition, Mr Nečas also emphasised that not a single line in the coalition’s policy statement would be changed.
A new political party is taking shape around the outgoing members of Public Affairs. Karolína Peake told reporters on Wednesday that they would be registering a new political body in the coming days. The faction has not been given a name; Mrs Peake said only that it would be a centre-right party and would hope to have a parliamentary club (which requires a total of 10 MPs). She has declined to say how many MPs she expects to join the new grouping. The ex-Public Affairs members held an organisational meeting regarding the party on Wednesday.
Public Affairs’ chairman Radek John said he was shocked by the development and asserted that the renegade MPs around Karolína Peake were focused on personal gain. Speaking from Warsaw where he is on a business trip, John compared the situation to a 1998 split in the Civic Democratic Party and accused the departing members of taking advantage of his absence to create a party of opportunists. John and Peake publically split two weeks ago over the party leaderships’ instigation of a government crisis.
While the government is counting its supporters, Former Prague mayor and MP Pavel Bém has indicated that the government cannot fully rely on his support for its programme. Having suspended his membership in the ruling Civic Democratic Party over a corruption scandal, Mr Bém told the daily Právo on Wednesday that his support for the government would most likely be on a case by case basis. The question, he said, would be what the new government would offer voters without a mandate from them. For ‘right-wing’ policies he will offer his support. The former mayor was forced out of the party after the emergence of wiretap recordings that suggested he allowed a construction tycoon undue influence over city management.
The Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic is seeking state recognition as a national minority. The associations which applied for the status are asking for a representative on the government’s council for national minorities. By law, national minorities comprise large groups of Czech citizens who reside in the Czech Republic and differ from others through their ethnicity, language, culture and traditions. Vietnamese community is demographically the third largest minority in the Czech Republic, with a population of over 17,000.
The Communist party has surpassed the Civic Democrats for the first time, becoming the second most popular party in the country, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM polling agency. The survey suggests that elections to the Chamber of Deputies would at present be won by the opposition Social Democrats with over one-third of the vote, followed by the Communists with one-fifth of the vote. Third and fourth places would go to the Civic Democrats and TOP 09. Voter turnout would be roughly two-thirds of the general public, the poll says.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will be meeting with his American counterpart Hillary Clinton at a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday. The two are set to discuss the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant. The US company Westinghouse is one of several seeking to win the multi-billon crown tender. On Wednesday, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra met with his US counterpart Leon Panetta; during the conference the two will sign an agreement allowing Czech weapons manufacturers access to Us Army tenders.
The government has approved a draft state financial statement, according to which the budget posted a 142.8 billion crown deficit in 2011. The original plan anticipated a 135 billion budget deficit; the difference was reportedly due to problems with drawing subsidies from European funds. The Czech Republic's public finance deficit dropped to 3.1% of gross domestic product last year, while the government anticipated a deficit of 3.7%. Prime Minister Nečas noted that this was no reason to rejoice, saying the public finance deficit was better because of decreased investment activity on the part of municipalities and universities. He added that it was clear that efforts aimed at fiscal austerity must continue.