Q&A: Czech scandal
- 17 June 2013
- From the section Europe
The government of the Czech Republic has become embroiled in a scandal involving allegations of corruption and abuse of office that has seen Prime Minister Petr Necas announce his resignation.
Why has he felt obliged to quit?
In the end, the pressure for him to do so proved too great. The aide at the heart of the scandal, Jana Nagyova, is his closest political - and, allegedly, personal - companion, someone with whom he was in constant contact for much of the past decade, from his time as labour and social affairs minister to when he became prime minister in 2010.
Mr Necas stood at the head of a fractious centre-right coalition which has been close to collapse on several occasions over the last three years. In the wake of last week's revelations it was increasingly clear he could not rely on his two coalition partners if the opposition initiated a vote of no-confidence. Ms Nagyova's arrest on charges of corruption and abuse of office sent the Necas government into turmoil. A court decision to remand her in custody sealed his fate.
Is this the same man elected on an anti-corruption platform?
It is. The coalition of three parties came to power in 2010 following an election campaign dominated by one theme: cracking down on high-level corruption. Critics accuse the Necas government of failing to introduce the sort of far-reaching legislation that would make Czech public tenders more transparent, sever the tentacles of an economic "mafia" that was strangling the state administration and make Czech company ownership less opaque (although on this last point there has recently been some progress).
However some commentators believe Mr Necas did more than any Czech politician to free the police and prosecutors from political control. They say the spectacular arrests of officials, former MPs and senior intelligence staff by the country's anti-organised crime unit was the natural outcome of this process. It is greatly ironic that Petr Necas himself has paid the ultimate price.
Who exactly is Jana Nagyova?
Her official job title was Director-in-Chief of the Cabinet Section of the Prime Minister's Office - something along the lines of a US chief of staff. The current scandal involves many allegations, but the most serious is that Ms Nagyova ordered the military intelligence service to spy on Radka Necasova, the prime minister's now-estranged wife (the couple announced shortly before the scandal broke that they would seek an uncontested divorce).
There are many problems with that, not least moral (Ms Nagyova is widely believed to be "the other woman" in the prime minister's life), but the key point is that as an unelected civil servant, she has no formal authority to order the intelligence services to do anything. Her lawyer told Czech media the surveillance was in Mrs Necasova's interests, as the prime minister's wife had become mixed up with "strange people" and "Jehovah's Witnesses" and Ms Nagyova was simply trying to protect her.
Will ordinary Czechs be surprised at such allegations of corruption at the heart of their government?
No. The Czech public has regularly been treated to the sight of MPs, officials and businessmen being led away from luxury villas or government offices, jackets placed diplomatically over handcuffs, for the past few years. The difference now is that the police and prosecutors are aiming rather higher, chopping away at an octopus of corruption and cronyism that many believe has its tentacles wrapped round the heart of Czech government and business.
On the other hand, some - including the outgoing prime minister - say the police are being theatrical and heavy-handed, and that some of the charges betray a startling ignorance of politics. Does persuading a troublesome MP to step down by offering him a directorship of a state-owned company really constitute corruption? Isn't that just realpolitik?
What happens next?
For a while, nothing much. After Mr Necas and his cabinet submit their resignations to President Milos Zeman, they go straight back to work as a "government in resignation" until a new one can be found. At the moment, it seems Mr Necas's party - the Civic Democrats - will come up with a new candidate for PM (the smart money is on Trade and Industry Minister Martin Kuba).
If the coalition agrees with their choice, that candidate will go to the president, who will ask him for assurances he can secure a majority in parliament. If they win a vote of confidence, there is no reason why the same centre-right coalition could not continue until regular elections in 2014. But the centre-left opposition is calling for fresh elections, and the (leftist) president is an unpredictable figure, making any reliable forecasts difficult.