Czech govt party disintegrates, coalition threatened

Serious personal crisis in Public Affiars' parliamentary club

Public Affairs, a Czech political newbie and junior member of the government coalition, is going through a serious personal crisis in its parliamentary club, with possible consequences for the center-right government of PM Petr Nečas.

The party’s club of deputies shrunk from 24 to 21 members this week. Jaroslav Škárka, who had accused transport minister Vít Bárta, widely considered to be the party’s real (albeit informal) leader, from taking bribes, was forced to quit on Tuesday. On Thursday, another rebelling member Stanislav Huml quit, and the club’s chairwoman Kristýna Kočí was expelled.

The internal crisis in the junior government member may have serious consequences for the stability of the center-right government, which has already faced serious problems in its first nine months of existence.

Both Škárka and Kočí filed criminal complaints for corruption against Public Affairs.

Both deputies alleged that Bárta had tried to bribe them. Bárta himself claims that the money he gave them were only loans, not bribes. Škárka received CZK 280,000 (EUR 11,000), Kočí CZK 500,000 (EUR 20,000).

In spite of the crisis, the party declares unity. “It has consolidated us,” said Radek John, the party leader and interior minister. 

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However, some Public Affairs deputies criticize Bárta for what they see as his “mafia methods”.

On Thursday, Czech daily MF Dnes said it obtained a secret document from a meeting of ABL, a Czech security agency founded by Vít Bárta, in which Bárta states the necessity to enter the Czech politics in order to secure his economic power. Since the very beginning of his political career, Bárta has tried hard to dispel similar accusations, and even sold his share in the firm to his brother.

Public Affairs may leave the government

On condition of anonymity, was told by a source from the government that the very future of the coalition is at stake.

On Thursday 7 April the main government parties, ODS and TOP 09, discussed a possibility of the government relying only on Public Affairs rebels such as Huml, with actual leader of Public Affairs Vít Bárta and people loyal to him forced out of the government.

For example, Petr Gazdík, the chairman of the TOP 09 club in the lower chamber, said in an interview with public service Czech Television: “I can imagine a government of ODS and TOP 09 supported by some Public Affairs deputies.”

In addition, the government is being pressurized to opt for this variant even by the opposition. Social Democrats have said they would initiate a no-confidence vote if Bárta remains in the government.

In order to retain his majority in the lower chamber, PM Petr Nečas needs the support of at least seven members of the disintegrating Public Affairs. This would provide Nečas with a very unstable majority of 101 of 200 seats. ODS has already been in this situation, and the government of Mirek Topolánek (2006-9) failed to complete its full election term because its very fragile majority.

So far, three troublemakers left or were expelled from the 24-member club of Public Affairs deputies. However, this number may not be definite. Other three members of the Public Affairs deputy club are actually members of SNK-ED, and only run in the 2010 election for Public Affairs. was said by the SNK-ED leadership that it is being discussed whether these three deputies should quit the Public Affairs club as well.

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Other Public Affairs lawmakers mostly try to avoid the issue at all. They do not answer journalists’ phone calls, or speak to them only on condition of anonymity.

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