Czech PM Sobotka has said he will not resign, only days after saying he would do so to take down his finance minister and main rival. Sobotka appears to have made an embarrassing miscalculation.
Czech President Milos Zeman (L) points his stick at Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka after a meeting on Thursday.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Friday backpedaled on his announcement made earlier this week that he would resign, saying instead he would seek the dismissal of his chief political rival, billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babis.
"I will not present my resignation. I will soon ask the president of the republic to recall the finance minister," Sobotka told reporters in Prague.
The reversal escalates a political crisis following Sobotka's surprise resignation announcement on Tuesday over tax fraud allegations leveled against Babis less than six months before national elections.
Babis is the head of the centrist ANO party and is expected to win the October elections in the EU and NATO member.
In what appears to be a major miscalculation, Sobotka had said he would resign along with his entire government in order to remove Babis. But President Milos Zeman said he would only appoint a new prime minister - either the interior minister or the defense minister from Sobotka's Social Democrats - and not dissolve the entire cabinet, including Babis.
"In such a situation my resignation does not make any sense. The finance minister, burdened by extensive scandals, would remain in the government," Sobotka told reporters.
Babis is on good terms with Zeman, whose spokesperson Jiri Ovcacek said Friday that the president "was in no rush" meet the prime minister's request to remove the finance minister.
"A desperate prime minister is trying to pull the entire country into mud," Ovcacek tweeted.
Calling Sobotka's maneuvering "ridiculous," Babis told reporters on Friday he would await the president's decision.
Sobotka has accused Babis of avoiding tax by purchasing tax-free bonds for his chemicals and food conglomerate Agrofert.
Ranked by Forbes as the Czech Republic's second-richest person, Babis put his company into a trust earlier this year to comply with a new conflict of interest law. He denies the allegations.
Since earlier this week Babis has also been under pressure over leaked recorded conversations alleged to show him pressuring a journalist to attack his rivals.
If Zeman refuses to dismiss Babis, the case may wind up at the constitutional court.
cw/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)