News In Brief: March’s Headlines In The Czech Republic

Brno, Apr 4 (BD) – A round-up of Czech news headlines from March.

Political Newcomer Zuzana Čaputová Elected President of Slovakia

Zuzana Čaputová, a 45-year-old environmental activist and anti-corruption lawyer with little previous political experience, was elected President of Slovakia in a surprise result. After winning the first round on March 17 with 41% (Prague Monitor, March 18, “Čaputová wins first round of Slovak Presidential elections”), she went on to defeat EU Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, the candidate of the ruling Smer-SD party, in the run-off, taking 58% of the vote.

Čaputová ran on an anti-corruption and anti-extremist platform with the slogan “Stand up to evil!”, avoiding personal attacks on fellow candidates. Her election was described by the international press as a rare victory for liberalism in the Central European region (The Guardian, March 30, “Slovakia elects first female president”). She will be Slovakia’s first female president.

The new president will be sworn in in June, and has announced that her first foreign trip will be to the Czech Republic (Radio Prague, April 1, “Czech politicians broadly positive on Čaputová’s election as Slovak president”).

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš Meets US President Donald Trump at White House

Prime Minister Babiš met President Trump at the White House on March 7, as part of a three-day trip that also saw him visit the CIA headquarters in Virginia and meet the agency’s director, Gina Haspel (Prague Monitor, March 6, “Czech PM to meet Trump, CIA chief during US visit”). In a press conference after the meeting with Trump, Babiš praised the president and said he had invited him to the Czech Republic, along with his half-Czech daughter Ivanka. He said the two leaders had discussed defence and security issues, and Trump’s proposed tariffs on EU imports, which Babiš opposes (Prague Monitor, March 8, “Trump meets Babis at the Oval Office”).

The Czech PM also met with representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce, who he told media were his allies in the dispute over tariffs (Prague Monitor, “Babiš meets with CIA director and American Chamber of Commerce”), key figures from both the Republican and Democrat parties, and members of Jewish organisations. Babiš described the trip as the “most important event of [his] political life” (Prague Monitor, March 11, “Babis finishes US trip, calls it the most important event of his political life”).

Read more: The Guardian, March 6, “Rich, scandal-hit and anti-immigrant: Czech leader Babiš to meet Trump”; Forbes, March 7, “The ‘Czech Donald Trump’ Meets With Real Donald Trump in White House”.

ANO Deputy Leader Faltýnek Implicated In Influence Scandal

Jaroslav Faltýnek, Deputy Leader of ANO and the party’s parliamentary leader, came under fire when allegations emerged that he had improperly facilitated a meeting between highway toll agency Kapsch and the National Antitrust Office (ÚOHS). Police investigations into the matter included a raid on his offices, among other locations. Faltynek appeared before parliament to defend his actions, reportedly saying that his actions were in order to protect his colleague, Transport Minister Dan Ťok, and had been transparent (Prague Monitor, March 15, “Faltýnek battles to save himself in Parliament”).

ODS Expels Václav Klaus Jr.

On March 16, the Civic Democrat Party (ODS) expelled populist politician Václav Klaus Jr., son of former President Václav Klaus, citing his recent behaviour, which they said had embarrassed the party, and his longer-term differences with the party’s principles and policy agenda (Prague Monitor, March 18, “ODS expels Klaus Jr. from party”).

ANO Maintain Lead in Opinion Polls

Opinion polls released for the February period, conducted by Kantar CZ for Czech Television, indicated that the ruling ANO party are maintaining their lead, on 31%, ahead of the Pirate Party on 17% and ODS on 12.5%. Other parties which would pass the 5% parliamentary threshold include SPD, ČSSD, the Communists and STAN, with KDU-ČSL and TOP 09 falling short (Prague Monitor, March 11, “ANO continues to dominate Czech politics”).

Further polls later in the month reinforced the results, with one by the Czech Academy of Sciences finding ANO on 32%, ODS on 14%, and the Pirates and ČSSD level on 12.5% (Prague Monitor, March 26, “ANO still strong in the country”), and another by pollster Median finding ANO on 30.5%, with the Pirates and ODS on 14% (Prague Monitor, March 29, “Another March opinion poll shows ANO winning”).

Czech Muslim Community Eject Controversial Leader

Leonid Kushnarenko, the leader of the Center of Muslim Communities of the Czech Republic, was removed from his position and ejected from the organisation following controversial remarks he made after the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, suggesting that he would assist Muslims wishing to obtain guns for their self-defence. The organisation announced the move on their Facebook page after Kushnarenko’s comments were widely criticised (Prague Monitor, March 26, “Muslim leader Kushnarenko ejected from community”).

Czech Man Mauled To Death By Illegally-Kept Lion

Czech man Michal Prášek made international news when he was mauled to death by a lion he was keeping illegally in a cage at his family home in Zděchov, in the east of the country. The lion was part of a breeding pair, which had been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Prasek and local authorities, but could not be removed because of a lack of alternative facilities. Both lions had to be shot dead in order to recover his body (BBC, March 5, “Czech man mauled to death by lion he kept in back yard”).

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