As Europe labours under a scorching heatwave, the Czech government is feeling the heat for very different reasons. The fate of the Babiš administration, which recently survived a second no-confidence motion in Parliament since taking office, once again hangs in the balance.
The minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has faced increasing criticism from opposition benches and mounting street protests directed primarily against the prime minister who is suspected of EU subsidy fraud.
But this time the threat of collapse comes from inside the ruling coalition. The Social Democrats, the junior party in the minority government, has threatened to walk out of the coalition over President Miloš Zeman’s refusal to appoint a new culture minister from their ranks which they argue is at variance with the coalition agreement signed.
Party leader Jan Hamáček urged Prime Minister Babiš to use legal means to force the president to act and Babiš has refused to do so, raising anger within the badly weakened Social Democrats many of whom are now in favour of leaving the government on the argument that the party is only losing public support by remaining in an alliance with the embattled prime minister.
Andrej Babiš attempted to quell the storm over the weekend, warning that the fall of the minority government would lead to early elections. He told Czech Television he is confident he can persuade the president to appoint the Social Democrats’ nominee for culture minister giving the coalition a new lease on life.
“I will talk to the president and explain that there is a certain coalition agreement in place and, while he may have different views on the culture minister and the Social Democrat’s choice of successor, he should respect that agreement and comply with my request to effect a change-of-guard at the ministry.”
The leaders of the ruling parties are to meet with President Miloš Zeman on Tuesday for talks that are likely to decide the fate of the Babiš administration. The president, who clearly expected to have his own way over the matter, broke off his holiday and returned to Prague on Sunday to prepare for the all-important talks.
He has, in the past, pushed his constitutional powers to the limit and beyond to get his own way and the prime minister’s unwillingness to go into an open confrontation with him has only strengthened his negotiating position. Much will depend on the president’s hidden agenda and what his motives are for sticking to a decision that is clearly further harming the weakened Social Democrats.
In an interview for Saturday’s Mladá fronta Dnes daily, Mr. Zeman said the Social Democrat’s threat to leave the government amounted to suicide given their meagre popularity rating. He has made it clear that should they do so, he would again ask Andrej Babiš to form a new government and he himself would be a power broker in any subsequent cabinet reconstruction.
Should the country face snap elections, it will be the president who will call the date and much will depend on the public mood between now and then. According to a flash poll released on Sunday Babiš’s ANO party is still in the lead with 25.5 percent support, but given the protracted government crisis its popularity has taken a slide to what is the worst result since 2016.
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