President Miloš Zeman says he has not taken a definitive opinion on
whether he should approve certain ministers in the nascent coalition
government or not. The head state said in a television interview Sunday
that was the reason why he was prepared to meet with ministerial
candidates. Zeman detailed specific objections to three proposed ministers,
without naming them, in a press conference on Friday, adding that the head
of state had the right to refuse Cabinet suggestions.
His words have been widely interpreted as targeting likely interior minister Milan Chovanec; minister of industry and trade Jan Mládek; and minister for human rights, Jiří Dienstbier; all Social Democrat nominees. Zeman said his misgivings about Jan Mládek focused on why he was refused clearance by the national security service 14 years ago. Mládek has pointed out that a more recent security application was not refused but abandoned because it was no longer needed.
A poll released by public broadcaster Czech Television showed 52% of respondents said they believed the president should appoint incoming prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s proposed list of ministers without any changes. President Zeman should be able to make changes regarding some nominations according to 38%, with 7% saying that the three way centre-left coalition should not be appointed at all. No opinion was expressed by 3% of the just over 1,000 people questioned. In another poll by the Median agency, 24% said that the president should make full use of all the powers possible to him with 74% saying he should be limited by the previous practice of heads of state.
President Miloš Zeman declared Sunday that he is broadly in favour of the nascent coalition’s programme goals but had some misgivings about how they could be achieved. In particular, Zeman said he wondered how funding for policy goals could be found given that moves to introduce more progressive tax for individuals and higher company and sector taxes have not been specified. The three way coalition of Social Democrats, ANO, and Christian Democrats have agreed not to introduce any tax changes this year. The head of state repeated that he has not sought to block the coalition’s creation and had given a conditional go ahead for the appointment of ANO leader Andrej Babiš as finance minister.
Outgoing prime minister Jiří Rusnok and defence minister Vlastimil Picek will represent the Czech Republic at the funeral ceremony of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on Monday, according to the Czech government spokeswoman. Sharon died at the age of 85 at a Tel Aviv hospital on Saturday after being in a coma for the last eight years following a massive stroke. Sharon made his name in the military in a series of wars against Israel’s Arab neighbours, later becoming minister of defence, and prime minister.
Czech president Miloš Zeman led tributes to Sharon, describing him as a great and courageous statesman who was not afraid to fight for his nation. Foreign Minister Jan Kohout underlined his moves as prime minister to foster peace with the Palestinians, such as the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Sharon was a controversial exponent of Jewish settlements on land earmarked for the Palestinians and was tarnished by the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon following the invasion of the country when he was defence minister.
Former education minister Petr Fiala has boosted his chances of becoming the next leader of the centre-right Civic Democrat Party. Fiala was backed to become party chairman by regional party meetings at Zlín, Vysočina and Hradec Králové on Saturday. He has already won support from regional meetings in South Moravia and Central Bohemia. The Civic Democrats are set to choose a new leader at a national meeting in Olomouc on January 18 and 19. The Liberec region has backed rival contender, MEP Edvard Kožušník.
A total of Kč 6 million has been set aside this year by the government for a project to restore the abandoned family home of Czech student Jan Palach and make it into a fitting memorial. Prague philosophy student Palach set fire to himself on January 16, 1969, to protest at the passivity of Czech and Slovaks towards the Soviet led invasion of the country in August 1968 to clamp down on the so-called Prague Spring. He died a few days later. Palach was brought up in a village near the central Bohemian town of Mĕlnik, where the family house is now falling into disrepair.
Speed skater Martina Sáblíková won a bronze medal in the combined competition at the European Championships in Hamar, Norway. The 26 year old clinched the medal with a win in the 5000 meters event after being placed eighth overall before going into the fourth and final discipline. The gold medal was won by Dutch woman Ireen Wüst.
Social Democrat ministerial nominees have hit back at president Miloš
Zeman’s attacks on their suitability for office. Jiří Dienstbier,
earmarked to be the minister for human rights, said that the head of state
was totally off track when he suggested that he would not be able to
fulfill his functions because he had been selected to head the party’s
campaign for upcoming European Parliament elections and would be
campaigning from February onwards. The party is seeking someone else to
head the campaign after he was offered the Cabinet post, Dienstbier said.
The head of state announced Friday that he would name Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka prime minister on January 17 but that the Cabinet’s formation was not likely till the end of the month. Zeman suggested Sobotka cast around for other ministerial candidates and warned that he was not obliged to automatically accept nominations for ministers.
Jan Mládek, the proposed minister for industry and trade and ostensible object of president Zeman’s suggestions that one cabinet candidate could be a security risk after failing to obtain clearance from the National Security Authority (NBÚ), has also defended himself. Mládek said his last clearance process was stopped when he started working in the private sector and it was no longer required. Mládek has previously been a minister of agriculture and deputy minister of finance. Fellow Social Democrat nominee Milan Chovanec said he did not use the law degree he earned under a controversial fast track process from the scandal hit Plzeň Law Faculty.