Wednesday, 14 November 2018

HN: Babiš to govern regardless ČSSD's toothless ultimatum

ČTK |
4 April 2018

Prague, April 3 (CTK) - The ultimatum the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) have set for forming a cabinet with Andrej Babis's ANO is toothless and ridiculous because Babis does not depend on the CSSD and can easily form a cabinet without its support, Petr Honzejk writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Tuesday.

CSSD leader Jan Hamacek and his deputy Jiri Zimola have set a series of conditions for ANO to meet to see the CSSD enter the planned coalition cabinet. In the supposed 15-seat cabinet, the CSSD wants to control five ministers including either the Finance or the Interior Ministry, and it wants an election to newly fill senior posts in the Chamber of Deputies, Honzejk writes.

Babis can laugh at the CSSD demands. If needed, he can form a single-party government of ANO, the winner of the October 2017 elections, that would make certain concessions to the Communists (KSCM) and the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) in exchange for their support in the confidence vote in parliament, Honzejk writes.

Another option for Babis is to try to provoke an early general election, from which his ANO would probably emerge strengthened, Honzejk writes.

For Babis, a coalition with the CSSD would be the most elegant solution as he would not have to bow to populist SPD leader Tomio Okamura, a step the European partners might frown at. Nevertheless, by rejecting the CSSD's ultimatum, he would not risk losing the government power, and he is behaving accordingly, Honzejk writes.

With self-confidence, Babis has repeatedly said that he would not give five government seats to the CSSD, because the CSSD's election result [7.3 percent of the vote, compared with ANO's 29.6 percent] makes it actually entitled to 2.5 seats, Honzejk writes.

Babis is evidently not going to cede the Finance or Interior Ministry to the CSSD either. The probability of such a step was well expressed by former CSSD deputy head Jan Birke when he said he would eat up his own hat if Babis ceded one of these ministries, Honzejk writes.

Babis's self-confidence recently culminated by his telling daily Pravo that he would "offer ministries to people according to their training or profession so that they can cope with their tasks as ministers." This really amounts to mockery, because Babis evidently wants to screen the CSSD candidates' professional competences before nodding to their appointment as ministers, Honzejk writes.

Hamacek's ultimatum really does not seem to be effective, he writes.

Even if Babis miraculously met all of Hamacek's demands, a government deal with ANO would be close to the CSSD's humiliation. It would go counter to the CSSD mid-February congress' statement that the prosecuted Babis's participation in the government is "a fundamental problem" for the CSSD, Honzejk writes, referring to the prosecution Babis faces for a suspected EU subsidy fraud.

If the CSSD gained five ministries, the ANO would still be the most dominating government party in the history of Czech coalition governments, he continues.

Even in the CSSD-led cabinet in 2002-2006, the two minor coalition parties had together six seats, but in the end, CSSD leader and PM Jiri Paroubek repeatedly circumvented the partners and pushed through proposals together with the opposition KSCM. No one can guarantee that a similar scenario would not repeat under Babis as head of an ANO-CSSD government, Honzejk writes.

The only effective safeguard for the CSSD might be if it insisted on the dismissal of Okamura as a lower house deputy chairman. This might guarantee that Babis would not be able to use the SPD's support whenever needed, in a situation where ANO and the KSCM are together eight votes short of a majority in the lower house, Honzejk writes.

In any case, Babis would ignore the CSSD's "ultimatum". The CSSD will either accept what Babis is offering to it, and it would become a part of the government, or it will not accept it and can switch into opposition, Honzejk writes.

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