July 24, 2019 / 6:00 PM / a month ago

Czech government spat over minister drags on, president to decide on post in August

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman will decide in August on whether to accept the Social Democrats’ preferred pick for culture minister, a personnel move at the heart of a dispute rattling the ruling coalition.

FILE PHOTO: Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The Social Democrats, a party Zeman once led before a falling out, are the junior member to Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO party in a center-left minority government that gets parliamentary backing from the Communist party.

They requested in May that Zeman remove Antonin Stanek, whom they accuse of being ineffective, and replace him with their preferred candidate, Michal Smarda.

But Zeman has defended Stanek, angering the Social Democrats and creating a standoff that led to Social Democrat threats of resignations as the president has yet to finalize the change.

Babis met Zeman on Wednesday and said the president confirmed he would remove Stanek by the end of July as the Social Democrats requested.

“He will decide on the (Social Democrats’) nomination for the post of culture minister around the middle of August,” Babis said on Twitter.

Under the Czech constitution, the president is obliged to fire ministers if requested to do so by the prime minister, but Zeman is known for acting independently of the government. In this dispute he has said there is no deadline for taking action.

The Social Democrat leadership confirmed last week Smarda remained their choice for culture minister, calling on Babis to ensure the nomination is respected. The party stopped short of deciding to leave the coalition already although resignations by its ministers remain an option.

Babis has fought to maintain his one-year-old government. The Social Democrats’ exit would cost him a parliamentary majority, leaving him few options. Babis has said early elections could hurt the country.

With the Czech economy and public finances mostly on firm footing, markets have been unfazed by the latest government dispute, similar to disputes in ruling coalitions that have marked the country’s politics for over a decade.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Alison Williams

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