In recent days, the country’s finance minister, Andrej Babiš, and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka have traded words in the media over serious issues in which they fail to see eye-to-eye, such as bailing out the troubled Paskov mine or providing a billion in support for hospitals. All at a time when Mr Babiš is looking to save billions in the state budget.
The exchanges represent the first potential cracks in the coalition – I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe, asking him how he saw the situation.
“At this point the skirmishes between the prime minister and the finance minister – and between Prime Minister Sobotka’s Social Democrats and Andrej Babis’ ANO movement are just that – skirmishes – meaning that the parties are trying to score some points ahead of the European elections. I don’t think the situation is as serious as it may currently seem. On the other hand, the situation could escalate. Certainly the charges being levelled at Mr Sobotka by media such as Mladá fronta Dnes (owned by Mr Babiš) over the questionable privatisation of north Moravian coal mines ten years ago when he was finance minister has raised some questions and could be potentially damaging.”
The prime minister charged last week that Mr Babiš and his media was playing an unfair role – are the two men on equal footing at this point?
“Unfortunately, I don’t think they are: Mr Babiš appears to have the upper hand for the time being. Owning two major newspapers, as well as being in President Miloš Zeman’s good books, seems to have strengthened his position. The president appears to be trying to win him over and Mr Babiš doesn’t seem to mind. Let’s not forget Mr Zeman was against naming Mr Sobotka prime minister in the first place, so there might be some agenda at stake, and it is very disadvantageous for the prime minister. At the same time, if Mr Babiš were to push too far, for example toppling the government, it could easily turn against him.”
Polls suggested the public is not keen on anything like early elections…
“We had three years of different crises and instability with the Nečas government and I think the public got really tired of it. They just want a government now that gets down to business. Mr Babiš really needs to be careful how he plays this because at this point he has been the main source of these conflicts. And while these conflicts so far have not impacted his popularity or the popularity of his movement, things could change if he continues with this style of combative politics.”