Czech junior coalition partners threaten government over culture ministry

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis on June 30, 2019.
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis on June 30, 2019. Copyright REUTERS/Johanna Geron
By Alice Tidey with Reuters
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The Social Democrats want the current culture minister to be dismissed but the president is refusing to approve the dismissal, creating a standoff that could topple the government.


The Czech Republic's junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, ramped up pressure on Prime Minister Andrej Babis' minority government on Monday by reiterating their preferred candidate for the minister of culture.

The Social Democrats have, since May, demanded that Antonin Stanek be dismissed from the position. Stanek drew international condemnation in April when he fired the heads of Prague's National Gallery and the Museum of Art in Olomouc — a move that was criticised as politically motivated.

The Social Democrats want Michal Smarda to be appointed to the role but President Milos Zeman — a former Social Democrat leader — has so far refused to finalise the personnel change, creating a standoff.

At a meeting of the party's leadership on Monday, the Social Democrats once again called for Smarda to be appointed and threatened resignation, which would topple the government unless Babis' ANO party secured another coalition partner.

"The outcome of the leadership committee is clear," Social Democrat leader Jan Hamacek told reporters. "We insist on the dismissal of Culture Minister Stanek and the appointment of Michal Smarda."

"We will not accept any other name," he added.

The party said it now expected another round of negotiations between Babis and Zeman, insisting that "the rules apply to everyone."

Under the Czech constitution, the president is obliged to fire ministers if dictated to by the prime minister but, despite this being the case, Zeman has so far declined to do so.

He said last week, however, that he would validate Stanek's dismissal at the end of July but did not confirm that he would accept Smarda's nomination.

Babis said in late June that he would call a snap election if the Social Democrats left the coalition but tempered that by saying he didn't think they would go ahead with their threat, describing it as "complete suicide".

Despite repeated protests against his rule, Babis' ANO party still leads in the polls, according to a Kantar survey released by Czech television on June 30.

ANO claimed 25.5% of the vote, while the Social Democrats came fourth with 6.5%.

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