Over a quarter million people rallied on Sunday afternoon at Prague’s Letná Plain to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš over allegations of fraud and conflicts of interest concerning EU funds. It was the biggest public protest since the 1989 Velvet Revolution which overthrew Communism and comes days ahead of a no-confidence vote in his government.
The minority coalition government of embattled Prime Minister Andrej Babiš relies on the support of the Communists, giving the largely unreformed, pro-Moscow, anti-NATO party a political say for the first time since 1989. In exchange for its tolerance, the Communists have won some major policy concessions, and party chairman Vojtěch Filip seems increasingly determined to scupper a deal to buy US military helicopters to replace the Czech Army’s ageing fleet.
A new National Sport Agency is due to be established in the Czech Republic taking over responsibilities for sports funding from the Ministry of Education. The Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday outvoted by a narrow margin the Senate’s veto of a draft bill seeking to create the agency. Its main aim is to create a new system of funding for Czech sport.
The mainstream opposition parties in the lower house of Parliament are pushing anew for a vote of no-confidence in the Babiš government, over the prime minister’s alleged conflict of interest outlined by Brussels regarding the distribution of EU funds. They say that even if unable to muster the necessary numbers to bring down the administration, the vote would have great symbolic “moral” value.
The Czech branch of the International Press Institute has called on MPs to exercise maximum responsibility in the choice of two new members of the council overseeing the Czech News Agency wire service. Respekt reported that in a first round of voting ANO backed an anti-Semitic candidate who looks likely to win a place in the second, a situation that has been condemned by the Federation of Jewish Communities. I discussed the journalists’ appeal with Michal Klíma, head of the International Press Institute in this country.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has launched a massive counter-offensive to the preliminary EU audit concluding that he has a conflict of interest due to strong links to his former business empire. While he refuses to meet with the organizers of the street protests against him, he has taken every opportunity to present himself as the victim of a targeted smear campaign intended to drive him out of politics.
News outlets from across the world reported on Tuesday’s demonstration calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, which organisers say had the largest turnout since the Velvet Revolution. Among the tens of thousands of protesters were many representing the regions, where the PM’s party has its main power base.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš remains defiant in the midst of a storm following the leaking of a preliminary EU audit which states that he has a conflict of interests and the country many have to return close to half a billion crowns in EU grants as a result. The prime minister insists that the country will not have to return anything and has refused a call for him to ask the lower house for a vote of confidence in his minority government.
Last week’s leaked preliminary EU Audit, which found Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to be in a conflict of interests, continues to make headlines across the country. Mr. Babiš has denied any wrongdoing. Civil servants are now waiting for an official Czech translation to be sent after which they will send their state’s reply to the findings. I asked the director of the Transparency International’s Czech branch, David Ondračka, whether he thinks there is any chance the findings of the preliminary report will change in the final version.