The saga over the formation of a new government continues, with all eyes now on a planned meeting later this week between President Zeman and Miroslav Poche, the Social Democrats’ candidate for foreign affairs in a proposed minority coalition with ANO. Mr. Zeman is against the nomination and will ask Mr. Poche to step aside. However, he and his party leader show no sign of budging. I discussed the situation with political analyst Jiří Pehe.
Czech doctor and political activist Marek Hilšer first made headlines in 2014, when he and a colleague stripped to the waist at a government press conference to protest Russian aggression towards Ukraine and show support for the EU and Nato. Now a household name – having staged a bid for the presidency in a grassroots campaign – he is running for the Senate, to represent Prague districts 2 and 3. I spoke to Dr Hilšer after he officially announced his candidacy on Tuesday at a Prague café.
Prime Minister-designate Andrej Babiš presented his proposed new cabinet line-up to the Czech president for approval on Sunday, two days after the centre-left Social Democrats agreed – following a party referendum – to join Mr Babiš’s centrist ANO party in a coalition government. But the political uncertainty is not over, with the foreign minister nomination proving controversial.
After eight months of stalemate the Czech Republic looks set to get a new government capable of winning a confidence vote in the lower house. According to as yet unofficial reports, the Social Democrats have endorsed a coalition agreement on forming a minority government with the ANO party which would rely on support from the Communists.
The Interior Ministry this week issued its annual report on extremism, in which it says that ultra-right groupings are no longer politically relevant and their agenda has been adopted by the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD), which however cannot be defined as “extremist”. I spoke to extremism expert Miroslav Mareš, about the gradual seeping of in tolerance into mainstream political parties and why it is that the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party cannot be defined as extremist.
Plans to cut housing benefits for the socially disadvantaged are in the spotlight ahead of a special debate scheduled for the lower house on Thursday. The ANO government say the move will curb landlords exploiting the poverty of others – but members of the opposition warn that it could undermine the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I discussed the issue with Kumar Vishwanathan, a community worker in North Moravia.
The timing could hardly have been less inopportune. On the very day newly-reappointed Prime Minister Andrej Babiš took the oath of office at Prague Castle – in which he pledged to fight corruption in government and for “Czech national interests in the European Union” – in Brussels, the EU’s anti-fraud office released its annual report highlighting efforts to combat the very same kind of fraud Mr Babiš is himself accused of having orchestrated.
President Zeman appointed Andrej Babiš prime minister on Wednesday, giving him a second chance to form a government after his first cabinet failed to win a vote of confidence in the lower house. His chances of success still remain far from certain and thousands of people took to the streets on Tuesday evening to protest against the appointment.
As efforts to form a new minority coalition government of the ANO party and the Social Democrats tolerated by the Communists reach their final stage, the Communist Party has been milking the situation to its best advantage. After rocking the boat over the country’s foreign missions, the party now says that unless its bill on taxing Church restitutions passes through the lower house the two parties can look for support elsewhere.
The Czech Republic has been without a fully-fledged government since the October election. President Miloš Zeman is expected next week to name Andrej Babiš, now head of the ‘government in resignation’, as prime minister. But the form that his government might take – and its chances of survival – is far from certain.