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Former ČSSD PM Sobotka leaves high politics

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Prague, March 22 (CTK) – Bohuslav Sobotka, who was Czech prime minister until last December and Social Democrat (CSSD) leader until last June, will give up his seat in the lower house of parliament as of April 1 and leave top politics, he said on Facebook on Thursday.

His place in the lower house is to be taken by Roman Sklenak, former head of the CSSD lower house group.

Sobotka said he would be a rank-and-file member of the CSSD.

He said he would vote against the party’s participation in the government of the ANO movement of Andrej Babis. “My reasons have been obvious and known for a long time,” he said.

Sobotka had repeated disputes with Babis who was finance minister in his cabinet and he eventually sacked him in May 2017, despite the resistance of President Milos Zeman who backed Babis. Sobotka and Zeman, who led the CSSD in the 1990s and early 2000s, were at loggerheads for a long time.

ANO won the autumn general election, while the CSSD defended only 15 of its 50 seats in the 200-member lower house, which has been its worst result so far. Many CSSD members blame Sobotka for the failure.

Babis has been prime minister for three months now, however, his first minority cabinet lost the confidence vote that the lower house held in it in January. He is now negotiating with the newly elected Social Democrat leadership about a possible government of ANO and the CSSD that would be supported by the Communists (KSCM). Last month, a CSSD congress elected Jan Hamacek its new leader and Jiri Zimola his first deputy.

Sobotka said on Thursday he was moving towards his decision for several months. “My decision is deeply personal. I have spent nearly a quarter of a century in active politics, including eight years in CSSD governments. At my age, I feel that I seem to have the last chance to embark on a very different path in life still in full strength,” he said.

He said he does not have any particular plans yet. He plans to devote himself to his family and his education this year, he said.

Sobotka, 46, has been married to Olga for 15 years and they have two sons. Last year, he said he and his would live separately and added that the hard work and pressure exerted on him in politics was the cause for the separation.

“Unlike some other prime ministers and party leaders, I will not criticise my successors in the media. Everybody has the right to take lessons from his own mistakes and successes,” he said.

Sobotka has been CSSD chairman in 2011-17 and its acting chairman in 2005-06 and 2010-11. He was prime minister in 2014-17 and finance minister in 2002-06.

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