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Karolina Peake: over and done in the blink of an eye

Published : 21 December 2012
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191 hours, that is to say a little bit less than 8 full days: this is how long lasted Karolina Peake as Defense Minister thus becoming the record holder of the shortest ministerial mandate in the Czech Republic.

Nominated on last 12th December, Ms Peake was dismissed on 20th December by President Klaus. Beyond the transience of her mandate, another record has been reached in the dismissal procedure because President Klaus has signed the decree suspending her as Defense Minister only 16 minutes after having received the Prime Minister’s proposal.

Karolina Peake is thus paying the hasty changes she made in the higher hierarchy of the Ministry of Defense when she fired less than one day after her nomination the 1st Deputy Minister Vlastimil Picek, the Director of national Armament Pavel Bulant and the head of cabinet František Šulc (see article Opinicus international). Those changes - which were not consulted with anyone – were unanimously criticized, in particular by the opposition, deeply disturbed President Klaus and the Prime Minister Nečas. They obviously have decided to give Ms. Peake the same bitter pill and fired her the same brutal way she used previously… triggering a new governmental crisis.

The coalition is facing a new political crisis

Effectively, comparing her dismissal with the 1938 Munich Agreement which decided to dismantle Czechoslovakia in absence of President Beneš, the young president of LIDEM Party declared that «it is actually the end of the coalition». She asked the ministers from her party – or named with the support of her party – (Kamil Jankovský, Minister for local development, and Petr Mlsna, Minister without portfolio) to leave the government on 10th January 2013. Without the support of the liberal-democrats, the governmental coalition will not have the majority in the National Assembly. Despite the usual support of 5 former members of ODS or Public Affairs (VV), the coalition ODS-TOP09 has only 90 Members of Parliament (49 ODS and 41 TOP09), short 6 people to reach the majority of 101 MPs.

However this crisis does not mean the end of the government because the left hand side political opposition only has 80 MPs who are insufficient to topple the government. And it is far from sure that the 11 VV MPs and the 12 MPs without etiquette will join the social-democrats and the communists in such a hazardous political maneuver. All the various polls are foreseeing the disappearance of those small parties in case of anticipated elections. Moreover, the date of 10th January 2013 fixed by Ms. Peake for departure of the LIDEM Ministers from the government is far enough to allow any further negotiation.

Most probably the members of the current coalition, including LIDEM, will be forced to cooperate and should use the Christmas break to imagine a new repartition of the respective roles. The only thing that is sure is that Petr Nečas will come out from this new political crisis in a weaker position because his hasty decision to dismiss Ms. Peake, after having nominated her Defense Minister despite her lack of interest in this field, looks pretty much like a political fault.

A revocation with dubious causes

The reasons given by Mr. Nečas to explain the Defense Minister dismissal are as poorly convincing as the ones given by Ms. Peake to justify the departure of generals Picek and Bulant.

Ms. Peake said that she wanted to improve the civilian control on the higher hierarchy of the Ministry but in the same move she nominated two former officers as Director of national Armament and head of her cabinet. Mr. Nečas is justifying the dismissal of Ms. Peake because of a total loss of confidence in her but sees no problem to continue to work with her in the coalition.

What - or who - drove Mr. Nečas to take this unilateral decision which surprised everybody including his coalition partners of TOP09?

It is possible to see some influence from President Klaus who was deeply shocked by the way General Picek, a person he knows well and appreciates, was fired from Ministry. Effectively, the Czech president could have threatened not to sign the new Taxes Law, which is a major project of government who based its 2013 Budget on this basis. This kind of political blackmail is sometimes use in the Czech Republic. In 2008 for example the social-democrats took as “hostage” the mandate of deployment of the Czech soldiers in operations in order to avoid an extra contribution of 30 CZK (then 1€) for medical consultations.

Other sees the consequence of the recent meetings between some representatives of the Defense lobby and Charles Peake, the husband of the former Minister. Moreover the nomination as head of Ms. Peake’s cabinet of Aleš Klepek, former collaborator of Martin Barták, ex-Minister suspected to be involved in corruption affairs linked with some defense contracts, could have frightened Mr. Nečas.

Consequences for Ministry of Defense

Ms. Peake’s dismissal should not have any durable consequence on Ministry of Defense because she had little time to do major damages. But now is open the question of succession in the Ministry, which also will depend of the permanence of LIDEM inside the coalition.

It looks very unlikely that LIDEM will keep the Defense Ministry. Viktor Paggio felt it and is now vituperating in the newspapers, highlighting the inappropriate behavior of the Prime Minister towards Ms Peake. Alexandr Vondra’s return appears as improbable as well because it could trigger the anger of Mr. Kalousek (TOP09).

General Picek is a serious candidate but his potential nomination would need to overcome the personal anger of president of LIDEM, because he was the main reason of her fall. But it is known that in the political field, personal antagonisms can be overcome thanks to personal interests.

Or the Ministry could fall back on ODS. But that way, it could signify the end of the fusion project of Ministries of Transport and Trade in a “Super-Ministry” which was designed for the new star of ODS Martin Kuba.

The answer is expected after Christmas. For the time being the responsibility of the Ministry will be held by Prime Minister. Mr. Nečas immediately nominated back General Picek as 1st Deputy Minister.