In 2012, the most important development in Czech politics was a number of high-profile corruption scandals which included the arrest of a very influential and controversial opposition politician.
In March, a Czech newspaper published wiretap records of phone calls from 2007 between then-Prague mayor Pavel Bem (ODS) and Roman Janousek, an influential lobbyist. The story immediately became a major political scandal, as it revealed the high degree of the lobbyist’s informal influence over the Prague City Council’s decision making, and it was quite uncomfortable for the ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS).
In April, Czech police brought charges against ten people over an overpriced public contract awarded to the ProMoPro company in 2008. The scandal directly implicated Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra, who had been the deputy prime minister for European affairs in 2008, and thus directly responsible for awarding the lucrative contract to ProMoPro.
Vondra stepped down as minister later this year.
Rath, Parkanová, Dalík..
In May, Central Bohemia Governor and Social Democratic (CSSD) deputy David Rath was arrested by the anti-corruption police unit, in what was probably the most high-profile arrest in the history of the Czech Republic. Rath was eventually charged with accepting a CZK 7 million (EUR 280,000) bribe over the contract to reconstruct the Bustehrad Chateau near Kladno.
The following month, the Chamber of Deputies stripped Rath of his political immunity in order to allow his criminal prosecution.
Police also started to prosecute former Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova over a suspicious purchase of four CASA transport aircraft by the Czech military that took place when she was defense minister between 2007 and 2009.
In October, Labor Minister Drabek (TOP 09) stepped down over a corruption scandal of his subordinate.
In the same month, Marek Dalik, a former adviser to PM Mirek Topolanek (2006-2010), was arrested and charged with fraud in relation to the purchase of Pandur armored personnel carriers by the Czech military in 2009.
These and other corruption scandals created public outrage over the informal influence of various lobbyists, entrepreneurs, “godfathers” and other unelected figures on the Czech Republic’s decision making.
Also, the European Commission (EC) cut a large part of EU funds awarded to the Czech Republic’s development projects as a sanction for numerous cases of corruption and fund abuse.
Turbulences in ruling coalition
In April, the junior government Public Affairs party left the ruling coalition and went to the opposition, shortly after its founder Vit Barta was convicted on corruption charges. A group of Public Affairs deputies split from the party, founded their own parliamentary faction called LIDEM, and joined the ruling coalition, which effectively allowed the government of PM Petr Necas (ODS) to continue.
However, when LIDEM chairwoman Karolina Peake was sacked as defense minister in December, the party announced it will leave the coalition by January 10, 2013. So the government’s future still remains uncertain.
This year was also marked by the campaign for the first-ever direct presidential election, scheduled to take place in January 2013. The leading candidates are former prime ministers Jan Fisher and Milos Zeman.
All candidates were required to collect signatures of at least 50,000 legitimate voters, which led to controversies, lawsuits, and the exclusion of some candidates.
Israel and Middle East
On the international front, the Czech Republic proved to be Israel’s key ally in Europe and in the world. Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu visited Prague in May for the second time in two years. Also, Zeman and Fisher, the two leading presidential candidates, have a hardline stance on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus canceled his planned visit to Israel in November, due to hostilities in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.
A wave of bootleg alcohol poisonings that started at the beginning of September prompted Health Minister Leos Heger to introduce a temporary ban on all sale of liquor with more than 20 percent of alcohol at restaurants and stores. The ban lasted nearly two weeks.
Between September and December, 38 people died in the Czech Republic from methanol poisoning. According to a report, the boom of illegal alcohol production in the Czech Republic has been permitted by the negligence of the authorities.
Also, Slovakia criticized the Czech Republic’s handling of the methanol crisis.