Thursday, May 04, 2017

Czech government crisis is tense, fun to watch

Two days ago, the Czech prime minister Sobotka announced his intent to resign – and, according to the traditions, this includes the removal of the whole government. The move was unexpected for almost everybody including myself (we assumed that he could only say "it's OK" or "fire Babiš only"). People have lots of opinions about the usefulness or legitimacy of the step.

I think that my opinion that it was a potentially ingenious chess move is a rare one but some other pundits, like the former ideologue of center-right ODS Vlastimil Tlustý, seem to agree with my view. It's rather likely that a similar government will complete the term that ends by the Fall 2017 elections but the details matter, the events may be spun in totally new unexpected ways, and there exists some chance that the elections will end up very differently than the outcome that people have been taking for granted for years.

The unexpected plan to resign was similar to the decision of an ice-hockey coach to remove the goalkeeper to increase the chance of a victory. The "temperature" increases and so does the probability of otherwise unlikely events.

The populist billionaire Babiš would normally be expected to get some 30+ percent of the votes but things may be very different because of the havoc that started on Tuesday. To say the least, Babiš seems extremely anxious. Things aren't evolving according to his plans.




Well, lots of events have taken place in recent two days. Today, the prime minister (Sobotka) visited the president (Zeman) at the Prague Castle. Zeman performed a theater play "resignation of the prime minister" except that the prime minister hasn't submitted any resignation document and denied that he came to the Castle to resign (so far).

Also, Zeman left in the middle of a sentence in Sobotka's monologue (and in this situation, I was sort of ashamed of the president whom I helped to be elected). The 14-minute-long video of this meeting is rather painful and the global media haven't overlooked the juicy event. I guess that you may feel the tension even if you speak no Czech. At 11:40, Zeman leaves while Sobotka is still talking.




At 6:30 pm, the public TV news channel ČT24 aired a hilarious interview with Mr Babiš. It seemed that Babiš was sweating hard and he was aware of being in deep trouble. On the other hand, the blonde host – Ms Světlana Witowská – did a remarkable job. She remained absolutely calm and was smiling all the time. I think that some of this smile was a smile of a winner. She realized that she was scoring all the time. It could have been the interview of her life. She could have subtracted several percentage points from Babiš's election results. Or she could have contributed greatly to events that will finally neutralize him.

She was asking questions about Babiš's will to support a government without him, about the untaxed bonds of his company, about the new leaked recording I am going to mention momentarily. Babiš was constantly trying to avoid all these questions and only repeat the old hateful slogans against the parliamentary democracy that his brain-dead voters love to hear 50 times a day. But she didn't give up. With a lot of love, like if she were talking to a retarded boy in the kindergarten, she "tried again" to ask him a question, hoping that he would answer at least one of them. He was being grilled like a chicken of Vodňany (a product of his company).

The new recording appeared yesterday and a new huge scandal for Mr Babiš emerged. I guess it's not quite a coincidence that this new explosive recording emerged a day after Sobotka's surprising plan to resign. On that December 2016 secretly (and probably illegally) obtained audio, Mr Babiš and journalist Mr Marek Přibil talk about a dozen of articles that should be published in MF DNES (a top daily owned by Babiš's Agrofert Holding at that time, and still owned indirectly through a trust now) and that should discredit various social democratic (fellow) ministers such as Mr Chovanec (interior) and Mr Ludvík (health care) – and about the optimum timing when they should be released (to influence the elections etc.). The audio proves that for years, Babiš has been lying that he wasn't influencing the content published in the newspapers he owned.

(The yesterday's recording showing Babiš's coordination with the journalist wasn't "quite" new. A related, older, late 2013 recording shows Babiš complaining to another daily he owned, Lidové noviny, that he didn't find a positive article about himself in the newest issue. He would show them who he was and he wanted to hear the name of the people responsible for the "failure" of Lidové noviny to publish the positive thing about him.)

This recording was posted by the YouTube user Julius Šuman. The name is almost certainly fake – it is the name of the officer working above Babiš in the communist secret police according to the documents from the 1980s. No one has a clue who is behind this Šuman account. On May 1st, the same Julius Šuman but on Twitter posted a recording full of obscene words that Mr Babiš addressed to lots of other politicians and employees.

MF DNES responded to the Babiš-Přibil conspiracy by immediately firing Mr Přibil – which was needed to protect the integrity of the daily, they officially said. In fact, that was not the end of the story. Today, about 200 journalists in this Mafra company (I have translated Brian Greene's books for a sister publishing company of the same name, just to make you sure that Mafra is important in the Czech publication industry of all kinds) expressed their shock and they vowed that they would never coordinate hit pieces with any politicians. They find it unacceptable. Two more journalists have already resigned to protest this political interference into the journalistic work and many more may join them by the end of the month.

In the hilarious interview with Ms Witowská, Babiš refused to listen to the recording, say whether it was authentic, he promised to never talk to any journalist in Mafra again, and whined about the attack of the whole evil parliamentary democracy against him, the most successful man in the history of the world etc. It was rather delicious to watch a meltdown of this nasty spoiled Bolshevik brat and yes, I did watch it twice because it's a great piece of journalism as well as entertainment.

(BTW prime minister Sobotka, widely considered to be a man without balls, must have found some mobile testicles somewhere. It's fun to watch. At the beginning of the interview with Babiš, they show a fun monologue of Sobotka's who said that "it's trivial to resolve the government crisis essentially in ten minutes". The only thing that's needed is for "Babiš to place the interests of Czechia above his personal thirst for power and go away". This is a vigorous approach to the problem solving that I couldn't imagine as being associated with Sobotka in the previous years.)

If you click at the link in the previous paragraph and watch the interview, can you sense the tension? Can you agree that she enjoys the grilling session? Without speaking any Czech, can you see that he is avoiding all the questions and she politely insists on them etc.? He was really avoiding the questions about the coordination of the hit pieces with the journalist, about his possible departure from politics, about the plans to build coalitions after the Fall 2017 elections. He hasn't really answered a single question. And he's added all these comments "I just don't understand why the government should end, it's insane etc.". Well, if he doesn't understand why a government should end when its prime minister resigns, it suggests that he is not qualified to become a high school student, let alone a minister. Well, there is still a million of Czechs or so who fail to see how ludicrous an idiot Babiš has become.

President Zeman is going to China and the government won't even submit the resignation letter before he returns in the middle of the month. So in some counting, the pace of the truly important official events is very slow. But the rate at which the relationships between the top Czech politicians are evolving is surely the fastest one now since the 2013 government crisis.

It would be nice if the main result of this government crisis were some kind of a complete, irreversible meltdown of comrade Babiš that would prevent him from continuing his political work – and, even more optimistically, that would earn him a bed in a psychiatric asylum. Such an optimistic outcome looked unimaginable just 2.5 days ago but it no longer looks unimaginable now.



Update: On Friday, while we were spending almost the whole day in the Techmania Science Center (and Babiš was lecturing somewhere in Pilsen but I wouldn't even consider wasting time with him), Sobotka changed his mind. He observed that President Zeman could interpret his resignation as a personal one, not a removal of the whole government, which would be meaningless because Babiš could stay. So instead, Sobotka decided to fire Babiš, after all. The letter has already been sent to Zeman and Sobotka hopes that Zeman will behave constitutionally and officially removes Babiš from the government as soon as possible. Sobotka could have made this decision to fire Babiš on Tuesday. I tend to think that this delayed removal is a bit smoother because the tension between Babiš and social democrats have strengthened and the dismissal sounds more logical now than it would have sounded on Tuesday. Babiš may still paint himself as a martyr and he will but there has already been a heavy fight so many more people will see him simply as a loser, not a martyr, now.

You know, people instinctively say "this two-step dismissal of Babiš seems awkward, chaotic, or complex" which is bad but the funny fact they overlook is that more awkward, chaotic, or complex solutions are sometimes the better ones for folks in a certain situation, arguably including the situation of Sobotka.

President Zeman has already announced that he will try to ignore Sobotka's letter dismissing Babiš. The constitution makes Zeman obliged to fire Babiš when Sobotka proposes to fire him but doesn't specify the date. But I think that the more hesitating Zeman will be, the more painful and unsustainable the position of Zeman and Babiš will be, the stronger pressure will be against them, and all these things will be helping their opponents such as Sobotka. Of course, there is a big risk here – that Babiš and/or Zeman will invalidate the whole constitutional system of Czechia – but I choose to believe that it won't happen. The courts, police, and other law enforcement forces aren't allied with them in any obvious way and the algorithms how to behave all very clear for all of them. And even if Zeman kept Babiš in the government through the October elections, it wouldn't really be a catastrophe and this strange status of Babiš could hurt him in the polls, after all.

Update: Zeman's spokesman Ovčáček already said that Zeman plans to ignore Sobotka's letter forever because it's a worthless piece of paper, not a letter dismissing Babiš. It's worthless, we hear, because it does contain a recommended date when Babiš should be fired, but it shouldn't because no date is mentioned in the constitution. Wow, another good, seriously meant joke in this farce. ;-) Note that the constitution doesn't mention that the letter mustn't contain a date, either. Constitutional lawyers generally agree that the president is obliged to fulfill the prime minister's wishes concerning the dismissals basically immediately. Hesitation would probably lead to a lawsuit at the constitutional court and I think that Zeman would have to lose it. Also, the senate could file the ConCourt complaint against the president.

Lady Dee, a Czech porn star, has already praised Mr Sobotka for his being sexy and for being the first Czech hero since the assassins of Protector Heydrich. Just like them, Sobotka is defending our land against (now Slovak) Heydrich named Babiš who would love to control the whole nation and decide whose life can be screwed. ;-)

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