Deputy prime minister for anticorruption strategy Karolína Peake announced Tuesday she is leaving Public Affairs (VV), the smallest of the three parties in the center-right coalition, to start a new political platform in a move that observers say could see the embattled party split into factions centered around her and VV de facto chairman Vít Bárta. At least four and as many as 10 VV deputies have pledged to join her, media reports say.
Public Affairs was elected to parliament for the first time in the general election last summer on the back of an election campaign based on an anti-corruption crusade and shake-up of the staid and jaded world of Czech politics. However, in the nine months that the party has been in power its top leaders have figured in an unenviable record of controversies and scandals that sometimes appear as a never ending comedy of errors.
Public Affairs (VV) — the smallest of the three ruling coalition parties — is paying a team to post comments on articles about the party published on the Internet, the party’s former PR manager, Alena Maršálková, told Czech position. Within party circles the team’s members are referred to as the “guerillas” after guerilla marketing. Maršálková’s claim was backed up by VV deserter Jaroslav Škárka.
Tomáš Jarolím has announced his resignation as VV’s deputy chairman after taking the blame for his party’s call for three cabinet members to hand in their resignations and for Public Affairs (VV) to quit the ruling coalition. His call came after the emergence of secret audio recordings suggesting that the largest ruling coalition party, the Civic Democrats (ODS), may have encouraged VV members to defect.
Acta non verba, a pressure group whose aim is to “incite public pressure against the poor functioning of the state administration,” has lodged a criminal complaint against Radek John, the official leader of the Public Affairs (VV) party for failing to fulfill the promise that he and party colleagues would return their MP’s expenses to the state budget and search for a way to transfer the funds to charities. John and VV’s inaction amounts to fraud, the NGO says.
If elections were held now, Public Affairs (VV) would fail to get enough votes to enter the lower house of Parliament, while the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) would squeak past the 5 percent threshold. Overall, the Social Democrats (ČSSD) would win, according to a straw poll conducted by CVVM in mid-June. The Communist Party (KSČM) has also made gains, putting the political left in the catbird seat.
Even before the “cash for loyalty” scandal, public support for the junior coalition partner Public Affairs (VV) and its top leaders, Interior Minister Radek John and Transport Minister Vít Bárta, had fallen significantly since the May 2010 elections, when the party got 10.88 percent of the popular vote. John has gone from being the most favorably ranked politician to being the second-most untrusted.
The composition of the newly installed Čepro supervisory board almost reflects a new political agreement on party representation — with the notable absence of Public Affairs (VV). The imminent personnel changes announced in late December were delayed for two months due to political wrangling, and there was even speculation the courts would have to name the new supervisory board members. VV was simply caught napping.
Transport Minister Vít Bárta (Public Affairs, VV) has been rewarding party colleagues for their support with cash payments, the weekly Respekt reports in its Monday edition, citing a recording of comments by Jaroslav Škárka, the party’s statuary representative. Škárka now claims he intentionally “mystified” the journalist when he discovered she was making a surreptitious recording.
The numerous political scandals around Public Affairs (VV) de facto leader Vít Barta and official chairman Radek John led three out of five managers polled by Czech Position to say the junior coalition party should leave the government. Some people said altruistic reformers will always have a hard time in government; others say that it was just a matter of time before VV members showed their true colors.
Public Affairs (VV) continued the tension and uncertainty at the heart of the three-way Czech coalition government by setting an end of the month deadline for its demands to be added to the government agreement. The Civic Democrats (ODS) and TOP 09 have asked for a clarification of its demands but know that VV is unlikely to want early elections.
Radek John remains as Public Affairs (VV) chairman after an Internet poll of party members. John let slip in the press conference after the result was declared that the idea of quitting the government coalition was attractive, but also stressed VV’s core muission of pushing the fight against corruption within the governemnt and curbing some of its partners’ more radical reforms.
The Executive Council of Public Affairs (VV) reportedly agreed on Tuesday to put forward Jiří Nantl (nonaffiliated) as their nominee to take the ministerial post in the Ministry of Education, recently vacated by Josef Dobeš (VV). Another party member thought to be a strong potential candidate, the former teacher Dagmar Navrátilová, is said not to be interested in the post.
The charismatic Vít Bárta and his entourage had been waiting for judgment day for almost a year and undoubtedly prepared for it well. Following the first half of court hearings, however, the predicament of Public Affairs (VV) — the smallest of the three parties in the governing Czech coalition — appears not serious but hopeless. Last week the party experienced the darkest hours yet in its short history.
Just as Public Affairs (VV), the smallest of the three ruling coalition parties, was beginning to reassert itself following the April crisis that saw it lose two ministerial posts, audio recordings have been published in which de facto VV leader Vít Bárta claims the party has its people in the Finance Ministry’s financial watchdog department, the FAÚ.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) says he will seek early elections in June unless a new look coalition not based on support of the rump of Public Affairs (VV) surrounding Vít Bárta can be formed — and can command a ‘comfortable majority’ in the lower house of parliament.
A battle is being fought over who takes leadership of the Czech government’s reform of the police and state prosecution service. Three different bids were made last week for a share of the action, headed by deputy prime minister Karolína Peake’s (Public Affairs, VV) bid to put herself in charge of a government working group to plan the reform agenda. The proposal, putting the interior and justice ministers in second place, will resurface this week but its chances are considered slim.
Junior coalition party Public Affairs (VV) set down a series of conditions Tuesday for PM Petr Nečas to fulfill or face the threat its ministers will quit the government by May 1. The conditions include new steps to win back public support, a review the three-way coalition agreement, steps to deal with ongoing scandals, and a reshuffle of the Cabinet.
There has been growing speculation that some members of junior coalition party Public Affairs (VV) are ready to jump to other parties. Things might come to a head in May, when Vít Bárta — the main sponsor of the party — could try to take over party leadership (He has said he wants to face the current chairman Radek John in an Internet election).