Czech Leader Under Pressure as Health Minister Quits Before Vote
(Bloomberg) -- Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is replacing his fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic in a blow to his efforts to overcome a string of scandals and a plunge in popularity before October elections.
The billionaire leader is struggling to rebuild support after a decision to lift social-distancing rules last year triggered a spike in contagion that led to the world’s second-worst death toll per capital from the virus and anger over a subsequent four-month lockdown.
A previously stumbling vaccine drive is now on track, with new cases of Covid-19 plummeting and hospitals no longer under threat of being overrun. Despite the improvement, Health Minister Petr Arenberger resigned on Tuesday over questions about tax and property filings. He said he did nothing wrong other than making a mistake when filling out forms.
“He probably got a bad advice from someone, and underestimated the fact that the property filings for ministers are much stricter,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.
Arenberger will be replaced by Adam Vojtech, who quit as health minister in September when the spread of infections began spiraling out of control.
The health crisis is just one the problems Babis, a chemical, farming and media magnate, needs to tackle before he seeks another four-year term in the elections.
He’s facing an opposition-led no-confidence motion as soon as next month, while an EU audit has found him in conflict of interest over ties to his business empire, which he rejects as a political attack. Additionally, he’s being investigated at home over an alleged misuse of EU subsidies by one of his companies.
That has contributed to a drop in the popularity of his ruling ANO party, which has lost a wide lead in opinion polls. If elections were held now, ANO would get 21%, behind a group led by the Pirate Party with 27% and an opposition center-right coalition Spolu with 21.5%, according to a survey conducted by Kantar CZ for Czech Television published on May 9.
The government reopened schools and shops this month and is also easing restrictions on restaurants. Babis is urging people to get inoculated to prevent a repeat of last year’s pandemic wave after summer holidays.
Read more: Communist Party Ends Support of Czech Billionaire Premier’s Rule
The country of 10.7 million has administered 4.7 million doses of vaccines, and daily cases have fallen into the hundreds, after exceeding 15,000 a day at the end of 2020 and the start of this year. That spike caused Babis to fire his previous health ministers, including Vojtech.
“If it wasn’t tragic, it would be comical,” Milan Kubek, the head of the Czech Medical Chamber, said on public TV. “It’s probably a sign that there are no more people to accept this post from the prime minister.”
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