Miroslava Němcová, the head of the lower house of Parliament, has called for an extraordinary session to take place next Tuesday. MPs are to discuss a possible vote of no-confidence, which the opposition is calling for in the wake of a government crisis triggered by a corruption scandal within the governing coalition’s junior party. To bring the government down, a total of 101 MPs would need to cast a vote of no-confidence; the opposition has a total of 82 seats in Parliament.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, said on Tuesday that his party was not going to budge from its request for a special session of the lower house at which they want to table a no-confidence motion against the Czech ruling centre-right coalition. He added that the personnel changes only made matters worse and further damaged the reputation of the government, because it had not, as promised, severed ties with all politicians who were involved with the ABL detective agency, formerly owned by former transport minister Vít Bárta, who was at the center of a recent corruption scandal within junior coalition party Public Affairs. The opposition party says the government has betrayed public trust and the only responsible way out of the present crisis is to hold early elections in the fall. The decision to call a no-confidence vote in the coalition government was approved unanimously by the Social Democratic Party leadership last Friday. The special session is expected to take place after the Easter holidays.
The leaders of the three-party coalition have agreed the terms under which the ruling center-right government would remain in office following a corruption scandal that brought it to the brink of collapse. Following late night talks on Monday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced the details of a planned cabinet reshuffle and said the government would seek a vote of confidence in Parliament by the end of June, linked to a vote of approval for the cabinet’s key reform bills.
Under the conditions agreed, Interior Minister Radek John of the junior Public Affairs Party will be replaced by Jan Kubice, a non-partisan figure who formerly headed a police unit fighting organized crime. Mr. John will remain in the post of deputy-premier and handle an anti-corruption portfolio. The unofficial head of Public Affairs, former transport minister Vít Bárta, who resigned in the wake of corruption allegations, is to be replaced temporarily by a non-partisan figure and will be able to return to the post if he manages to clear his name. Education Minister Josef Dobeš, also of Public Affairs, whom the prime minister originally planned to dismiss, is to remain in office. The prime minister said more personnel changes in the government could take place by the end of spring.
Commenting on the agreement between leaders of the three-party coalition President Václav Klaus said on Tuesday that he is not sure whether it will be a definitive resolution of the latest government crisis. He added that the agreement still had to be approved by the parties’ deputies groups in the lower house of Parliament. Mr. Klaus said that if the coalition is united in backing the changes proposed by coalition leaders, he is prepared to accept them. The president said that he did not want to comment on the details of the cabinet reshuffle.
Last week, the government crisis reached an impasse when Mr. Klaus refused to formally accept the resignation of Transport Minister Vít Bárta, as well as two dismissals, insisting that the government first present a plan for how they intend to proceed.
The former leader of the Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek has slammed the nomination of Jan Kubice, a non-partisan figure who formerly headed a police unit fighting organized crime, to the post of interior minister. He said that Mr. Kubice had shown his contempt for the law in the past and that his nomination was bringing the Czech Republic to the level of states like Zimbabwe. Mr. Paroubek also expressed concerns over Mr. Kubice’s connection to the ABL detective agency, formerly owned by Transport Minister Vít Bárta, who resigned over corruption allegations, as well as Public Affairs leader Radek John, who he is replacing in the office of interior minister.
Radek Šmerda, deputy to former transport minister Vít Bárta, is to take over the transport portfolio for the time being. Mr. Šmerda said on Tuesday that he regards the arrangement as temporary and that he is planning to remain in office only until Mr. Bárta manages to clear his name. He added that he would not make any significant changes to the way the ministry is run. Following late-night talks on Monday, leaders of the three-party government coalition agreed that Mr. Šmerda would lead the ministry in lieu of Mr. Bárta, who resigned in the wake of corruption allegations.
President Václav Klaus has granted a presidential pardon to Jiří Kotík, an entrepreneur sentenced to ten years in prison for fraud to the tune of 500,000 Czech crowns. A spokesperson for Mr. Klaus cited the difficult family situation of Mr. Kotík as one of the main reasons for the pardon. His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic in 2009.
Iraqi poet Saadi Yousef was given the Freedom of Expression Prize at the 21st Prague Writers’ Festival currently underway in Prague. Yousef was imprisoned in Iraq for political reasons and left the country when Sadam Hussein seized power in the late seventies. He currently lives in London and is the author of over 30 poetry collections. The international literature celebration, this year featuring some 20 writers, will last until April 20. This year’s theme is “Some Like It Hot,” referring to the current tense situation in the Arab world. The history of the festival goes back to the 1970s, when it was held in London and featured writers from Central and Eastern Europe. Poet Michael March transferred it to the Czech capital in 1989, after the fall of the communist regime.
A Prague city court on Tuesday overturned a verdict by a lower court that had handed suspended sentences to 15 individuals who squatted a house in Prague two years ago. According to the ruling, while the squatters did violate the rights of the building owners, they did not commit a crime serious enough to merit criminal punishment. The group of squatters had been arrested after spending a night at the house and refusing to leave. According to the defense, by squatting the building, they wanted to draw attention to the problem of neglected and dilapidated houses in Prague.
Tesco Stores ČR was able to increase its market share by six percent year-on-year to over 40 billion Czech crowns. Tesco Stores ČR’s general director Phil Clarke said that the company plans to continue its growth this year. Another two dozen stores are to be opened in 2011 and the chain’s biggest hypermarkets will be modernized. In addition, Tesco is planning to launch online shopping in Prague. Last year, the company opened a total of 25 new locations and bought up 81 stores of the competing Žabka chain. Tesco entered the Czech market in 1996; currently, the company is operating 158 stores, 18 gas stations and six shopping centers in the Czech Republic.
The coming days are expected to be bright and sunny with daytime highs reaching 20 degrees Celsius.