A Scandal in Bohemia

A Scandal in Bohemia

Report By: Shelli Gimelstein

July 11, 2013

This June, a corruption scandal erupted in the Czech Republic after an unprecedented police raid on government offices, villas, and businesses, leading to Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ resignation on June 17 and throwing the Czech government into political turmoil.

Nečas’ resignation came on the heels of serious charges against his cabinet, including his former chief-of-staff Jana Nagyova, who is accused of abusing her office and bribing lawmakers to resign.[1] Seven other officials were indicted on similar charges and subsequently removed from office. Ironically, the anti-corruption police unit that exposed Nečas and his cabinet was formed as a result of Nečas’s election campaign promise to weed out political corruption.

According to BBC News, the raids on top Czech officials were “connected to a long-running police investigation into links between corrupt businessmen and the state administration” and could be a “death blow for an already shaky government.”[2]

On June 25, President Milos Zeman named his economic adviser and former finance minister Jiri Rusnok as temporary Prime Minister. This move was made against the wishes of Parliament, whose left wing demanded early elections while the right wing called for parliamentary speaker Miroslava Nemcova to fill the post.[3] Zeman’s battles with Parliament will intensify during the coming weeks, putting the spotlight on the state of the Czech Republic’s democracy – nearly 25 years after the end of Communist rule.

Rusnok is unlikely to get a vote of confidence from Parliament and regular elections to fill the vacated positions will not take place until May 2014, although the option of holding early elections is on the table. It remains to be seen how Zeman’s power struggle with Parliament – and his efforts to put together a technocratic “government of experts” as the interim cabinet[4] – will play out.

Corruption and political turnover is not a new phenomenon in the Czech Republic, which has seen two interim cabinets since 1998 and seven governments led by six prime ministers since the end of Zeman’s term as PM in 2002.

Other post-Communist governments have also had their share of scandal. In 2009, Hungary’s PM Ferenc Gyurscany resigned after he was found to have repeatedly lied about state of economy in order to win elections.[5] Other nations in the region have faced even bigger bumps along the road to democratic consolidation. Rule of law in Romania has been undermined by political infighting and unrest in recent years[6], while Bulgaria’s pre-accession EU aid was suspended in 2008 over tax and subsidy fraud due to the political ties of criminal networks and oligarchs.[7]

While groups like Freedom House and the World Bank, as well as the international community in general, consider the Czech Republic to have a strong democracy, the arrest of such high-level political leaders indicates that the Czech Republic has a long way to go in ending its recurring problem of government corruption. In 2012, Transparency International ranked the Czech Republic 54th out of 179 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index[8], putting it behind Poland, Slovenia, and other nations formerly within the Soviet sphere.

As the first post-Communist nation to achieve the status of a developed country, the Czech Republic has been a regional leader in many other measures of democratization, but clearly still lags behind in this crucial aspect of combating government corruption to achieve successful democratic consolidation.


[1] Bigg, Claire. “Czech Prime Minister To Step Down Amid Corruption Scandal.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Radio Free Europe, 17 June 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.

[2] Cameron, Rob. “Czech PM Aide Held in Raids against Organised Crime.” BBC News. BBC, 14 June 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.

[3] “Jiri Rusnok Named as New Czech Prime Minister by Zeman.” BBC News. BBC, 25 June 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.

[4] Laca, Peter. “Czech President Mulls Technocratic Cabinet After Spy Scandal.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 24 June 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.

[5]Telegraph.co.uk. The Telegraph, 21 Mar. 2009. Web. 26 June 2013.

[6] Romania.” Project on Democratic Transitions. Foreign Policy Research Institute. Web. 08 July 2013.

[7] Carvajal, Doreen, and Stephen Castle. “Bulgarian Corruption Troubling EU.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2008. Web. 26 June 2013.

[8] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012.” 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index. Transparency International, 2013. Web. 26 June 2013.