Will Czech PM Necas survive?

Short interview with Sean HanleySenior Lecturer in East European Politics, University College London.

1. A year ago we have been discussing David Rath’s case, now it is police raid on high officials, it seems even on military intelligence chiefs. Czechs sometime complain that the high officials and politicians are untouchable. From what we see in Czech Republic would you say it is not like that and the police is doing its job?

Czech politicians and officials are, it seems, gradually becoming less invulnerable and Czech prosecutors do seem gradually to be becoming more independent. However, the number of convictions of politicians and businesspeople for corruption in the CT is still very low compared to the apparent scope of the problem and police and prosecutors are, I think, is subject to strong political pressures.

I am not sure if this is quite as a big a watershed moment as some people have suggested. I see Czech media are now starting to report that the investigation is mainly focused on two ‘godfathers’ rather than the politicians.

However, the fact that the investigation was not politically stymied or blocked perhaps says more about the weakness of Necas and ODS – and the declining influence of Rittig and Janousek – and then about a sudden change in the effectiveness of police and prosecutorial institutions.

That said, the symbolism of the Prime Minister’s office being raided is undeniable and, if the investigation widens, there could be unpredictable consequences which could in time affect other parties and lobby groups beyond the limited group of politicians and businessmen apparently targeted yesterday.

2. Would you say that this case may lead to early elections and wil it be the end of PM Necas’s political career or not, and why?

Even if the investigation is focused more on ‘godfathers’ it is very bad news politically for both Necas and ODS because it seems to confirm what much of the Czech public already thinks about them that the Civic Democrats are irredeemably corrupt and that is a weak and ineffectual leader. The arrest of Nagyova also tars Necas, whose reputation was that of a dull but honest Mr Clean, with the brush of corruption.

Whatever the actual outcome, the image of police raiding the Prime Minister’s office and of the chaotic atmosphere of crisis yesterday – when no one knew where the Prime Minister actually was for much of the day – is, I think, what voters will remember.

Politically it comes at a very bad time for ODS when the party was just starting to make a very modest recovery in the polls. It adds to the likelihood that the party will experience disastrous electoral defeat in 2014 and be overtaken by TOP09. This could mark the end of ODS as a major political force and bring about a fragmentation and re-alignment on the Czech right.

Necas’s political career will in any case, I think, with the next election, which seems almost certain to result in a bad defeat for his party, but the affair will tarnish his reputation for honesty and reliability, which had been one of the hallmarks of his time in politics. If it appears that Necas is more personally implicated – if Nagyova does seem to have a case to answer, for example – then it is possible he may face a challenge from internal rivals in the party. If Necas seems to be more of a liability than an asset, he could be unceremoniously dumped like Topolanek in 2010.

3. And perhaps also one more general question: What this can mean for the future of the Czech political scene. Mlada fronta Dnes had a headline: The end of an era? And would you say it may somehow have an impact also in the broader CEE region?

I’m not sure what wider regional impact it will have, but – unless there are some new revelations – I would think it might be limited unless there are arrests or convictions of very major politicians. Many states in CEE have experienced spectacular corruption scandals of various kinds and for many in the region Czech events and will simply be an echo of an already familiar domestic pattern.

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