President Zeman Consolidates Power With Controversial AlliancesČTK
Prague, Feb 21 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman has struck a close alliance with scandal-ridden but still very popular leaders Andrej Babis (ANO) and Tomio Okamura (SPD) and he legitimises their controversial statements in order to strengthen his own position, Vojtech Srnka writes in Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) today.
ANO and the SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy) are each an influential political party that cannot do without their respective leaders, on whose popularity and financial background they depend, Srnka writes.
However, both Babis and Okamura are ridden by scandals that would have ousted them as leaders and harmed their parties’ voter preferences still a few years ago. This is happening to neither ANO nor the SPD now, however. On the contrary, Babis and Okamura are viewed by Czechs as the most trustworthy politicians of all. Only Zeman’s popularity is higher than theirs, Srnka writes.
Instead of urging Babis and Okamura to correct their conduct, Zeman has struck a close alliance with them and uses them to secure power beyond his limited official powers as the head of state, Srnka writes.
Zeman excuses Babis and Okamura’s problems even at the cost of denying his own previous stances. In his widely respected presidential post, he legitimises the steps and statements of the two that would have sunk them in the past, Srnka writes.
Last week, a Bratislava court definitively confirmed that there is no reason for Babis’s name to be deleted from archive documents in which he figures as a former communist secret police (StB) agent.
True, Babis can sue further institutions in search of clearance of StB cooperation, but the court challenged the evidence on which Babis has built his defence so far – the testimonies of former StB officers. It will be far more difficult for him now to get rid of the label of a former StB agent, Srnka writes.
Formerly, it was unthinkable for a post-1989 Czech government to be led by a man figuring on the list of infamous aides to the previous totalitarian regime, Srnka continues, referring to Babis’s position of a prime minister appointed by Zeman.
After all, three years ago Zeman refused to grant the title of professor to physicist Ivan Ostadal over his StB collaboration. Now he is ready to appoint Babis as prime minister again, after his first cabinet lost a confidence vote in parliament. To excuse Babis’s registration in StB files, Zeman says it was StB officers, not agents who caused evil, Srnka writes.
The same goes for the prosecution Babis faces over a suspected EU subsidy fraud. In the past, Zeman wanted the presumption of innocence not to apply to politicians. At present, he is defending Babis, using the presumption of innocence as an argument, Srnka writes.
Zeman’s relation to Okamura is similar. In spite of still unclarified suspicions concerning Okamura’s alleged siphoning off money from his previous party, Dawn, and of Okamura’s openly racist statements, Zeman continues inviting him to Prague Castle for private consultations, Srnka writes.
Okamura even celebrated Zeman’s re-election as president together with Zeman’s election team in January, he writes.
In normal political parties, Okamura and Babis would only hardly survive their own fouls and they would be unseated. However, both of them are indispensable for their respective parties. That is why Zeman takes an excessively accommodating approach to them, thereby securing an unusually strong influence for himself, Srnka writes.
By his approach, Zeman has secured the right for himself to indirectly nominate one or two ministers in the nascent new government of Babis, although the constitution does not give such power to the president, Srnka writes.
Zeman prides in his skills of pragmatism and intrigues. However, Czechs view the presidential office as a moral arbiter who influences the moods in society and consequently also people’s tolerance of what is correct in the country and what is not, Srnka writes.
Instead of intriguing, Zeman should set an example for others to follow. True, his predecessors also showed controversial pragmatism now and then, but Zeman moved it far up to quite a new level. In doing so, he is teaching people that even the biggest political problems can be relativised and excused without any explanation, Srnka writes.
This approach of Zeman may open a path to a future leader who would wish the worst for the Czech Republic and its democratic system, Srnka writes.