December 19, 2017 / 4:41 PM / 5 months ago

Czech parliament revokes Communist-era policeman's election to oversight post

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech parliament revoked an election of a Communist-era policeman to a police oversight job on Tuesday after some lawmakers claimed the vote was manipulated.

Earlier, the lower chamber entrusted oversight of the police force to Zdenek Ondracek, former member of a Communist-era special unit which tried to crush the peaceful 1989 uprising that helped to bring down Communist rule.

The unprecedented appointment of a Communist lawmaker as chairman of parliament’s General Inspection of Security Forces commission appeared to be part of complex maneuvering by the new prime minister, billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, and his ANO party to get backing for a minority government.

After the secret ballot, some lawmakers challenged the result with claims that it was unclear how many in the 200-seat lower chamber actually participated in the election. Ondracek received 95 votes, but due to the uncertainty it was impossible to determine whether he got the required majority.

Speaker of the house, ANO’s Radek Vondracek, then declared the vote confused and said that it would be repeated in January.

The ANO has 78 seats in the new 200-seat lower house. Babis is seeking support or at least acquiescence from lawmakers of the other eight parties in parliament.

The far-left Communists with 15 seats, and far-right, anti-European Union SPD party with 22, have lent support in initial parliamentary votes in return for committee posts, but no deal has been announced on their backing for an ANO cabinet.

The secret ballot vote on Tuesday to appoint Ondracek was the first time the Communist party has gained such a post in nearly three decades since the fall of communism.

In 1989 his police unit used water cannon, clubs and dogs to disperse anti-regime protests. The demonstrations eventually led to the peaceful overthrow of Communist dictatorship in what became known as the Velvet Revolution.

A video from 1989, posted on YouTube, shows Ondracek defending police actions in an interview with state television.

“It is sad that it happened only one day after we remembered the anniversary of (late president and leading anti-Communist dissident) Vaclav Havel’s passing. The times have changed,” said Vit Rakusan, deputy chairman of the Mayors and Independents party.

Communist party deputy chairman Jiri Dolejs, however, defended the appointment.

“Police work should be scrutinized by those who understand it,” he told reporters.

In October, the Communist party suffered the worst election result in its nearly 100-year history. Still, it is the only faction so far to say it could back the ANO government.

Direct or indirect support might also come from the SPD party of Czech-Japanese businessman Tomio Okamura.

Other parties have shunned Babis, mainly due to pending police charges against him over allegations he concealed his company’s ownership of a farm and conference center a decade ago to illegally obtain a 2 million-euro European Union subsidy.

Babis denies wrongdoing.

Babis, who was appointed prime minister this month and whose cabinet took power last week, has until mid-January to win a confidence vote. President Milos Zeman has said Babis will get a second try if his first attempt to form a government fails.

Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Jason Hovet, Andrew Roche and David Gregorio

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