Thursday

23rd Nov 2017

Opinion

Czech Watergate: All the Prime Minister’s women

  • Prague clock: police raids detained seven top people and seized cash and gold (Photo: wikipedia)

A political earthquake struck the Czech republic on Thursday night (13 June) directly after Prime Minister Petr Necas' cabinet meeting.

Following raids on government and company offices across the country, police detained seven people, including senior MPs in the ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS), top military intelligence officers Jana Nagyova, the PM's chief of staff and long-term personal assistant.

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They also seized the equivalent of nearly €6 million in cash and several kilos of gold.

On Sunday, Necas said he will resign.

But, as in any good thriller, with fresh revelations coming out day by day, the best might be yet to come.

According to Czech media, the arrests in Prague are the results of a two-year investigation into high-level bribery allegations.

The country is no stranger to corruption.

Just look at its scores in the Transparency International index or read about Prague in the WikiLeaks cables.

Last year alone, we had scandals on EU cohesion funds, scandals in the ministry of defence, in the ministry of health and in Prague city hall, where the "Godfathers," a group of local politicians and lobbyists, had been siphoning off public money for years.

We also had scandals in the opposition.

David Rath, an MP and a leading figure in the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), made history by becoming the first Czech parliamentarian to be escorted round the assembly by police after being caught red-handed with hot money.

But this time the scale is different.

Necas' personal integrity has never before been called into question.

When he announced his resignation, he said he was discharging his "political responsibility." But he added: "I did not do anything dishonest and ... my colleagues have not done anything dishonest either."

He has been described as weak.

But the man known in Czech politics as "Peter Clean Hands" had successfully created an image of himself as a dispassionate sheriff.

But the scandal is not just about bribery, it is also about abuse of power.

In a twist worthy of Alfred Hitchcock's psychodramas, Nagyova also stands accused of spying on Necas' wife.

He is currently in the middle of divorce proceedings and leaked police documents show that Nagyova went so far as to advise him to leave his family.

There is unlikely to be any winner in the Czech Watergate.

The opposition CSSD is so far ahead in polls it would have won the next elections anyway.

For anti-Necas rebels in the ODS, it is too late to take over the leadership and to rebuild confidence in the party.

Meanwhile, President Milos Zeman, who is trying to act tough on Necas, is hardly capable of restoring people's trust in the Czech establishment.

Following reports that he attended an official ceremony while being quite drunk, he has his own PR problems to worry about.

Only his predecessor, the 72-year-old Vaclav Klaus, who continues to cling to political ambitions despite his advanced age and unpopularity, might get a bump.

Since stepping down from office, he has been waiting for an opportunity to take back leadership of the ODS, the party which he founded.

The ODS rank and file might well see the Cold-War-era hero as the only person capable of restoring the group's credibility.

But for Czech people at large, this will have little meaning.

The Czechs are becoming among the most disillusioned societies in Europe in terms of their mistrust of their country's larcenous and inebriated elite.

Will the Czech Watergate wake them up and make them push for real change?

The writer is a Research Fellow and Central Europe analyst at The Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw

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