The Czech Government Avoided Collapse by Surrendering to a ‘Presidential Coup’

The Czech Government Avoided Collapse by Surrendering to a ‘Presidential Coup’
Czech President Milos Zeman, right, and Lubomir Zaoralek, a former foreign minister who was appointed as the new culture minister at Prague Castle, Czech Republic, Aug. 27, 2019 (Photo by Roman Vondrous for CTK via AP Images).

PRAGUE—A long political drama ended in the Czech Republic this week with the government narrowly averting collapse, but only by surrendering to what amounts to a presidential coup. When President Milos Zeman formally appointed Lubomir Zaoralek as culture minister on Aug. 27, it brought an end to more than 100 days of crisis. Zaoralek, a former foreign minister, was parachuted in after Zeman refused to confirm the previous nominee put forward by the left-leaning Social Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his populist Ano party.

Since this standoff over the Cabinet appointment began, the Social Democrats threatened several times to leave the minority coalition unless its deputy chairman, Michal Smarda, was named culture minister. But in the end the party crumbled. The prime minister, formally the most powerful figure in the Czech Republic, did no better. Babis failed to confront Zeman and in the end meekly pledged his support for a head of state whose powers are supposed to be largely ceremonial.

Full of bluffs, blustering and blatant lies, the standoff was all too typical of Czech politics today, but with one difference: the president now has his hands on the levers of power. “Zeman is clearly in control and will now dictate,” says Otilia Dhand, an adviser at the risk analysis firm Teneo Intelligence.

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