Czech MPs refuse to approve program of extraordinary session to remove vice-chair accused of denying the Romani Holocaust
The chair of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, Czech MP Tomio Okamura, has survived an attempt to dismiss him from his function as vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies as his fellow legislators decided a second time not to vote on the issue. During two separate votes the lower house failed to adopt the agenda of the extraordinary session convened for 7 March to discuss Okamura's remarks about the concentration camp at Lety.
The session did not proceed and no other business was brought forward. Opposition politicians are criticizing the failure.
Former Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party -ČSSD) called the votes cast by the governing ANO party a disgrace, while the head of the TOP 09 group in the lower house, Czech MP Miroslav Kalousek, said ANO was supporting extremism and intolerance. Of the 176 MPs present, 77 voted to approve the agenda of the extraordinary session, 49 voted against it and 50 abstained.
That vote was then questioned by the head of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) group in the lower house, Czech MP Zbyněk Stanjura. During a second vote on the agenda 177 MPs were present, with 78 voting in favor of holding the session, 41 voting against it and 58 abstaining.
Of the MPs from the strongest faction in the lower house, the ANO movement, the only legislator to vote in favor of holding the extraordinary session both times was Czech MP Rostislav Vyzula. The head of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) in the lower house, Czech MP Jan Bartošek, spoke on behalf of the legislators who had called for the extraordinary session and said the essential responsibility for the outcome lay with the ANO movement.
All 22 SPD legislators voted against the extraordinary session, as did the Communists. The voting was preceded by a discussion of roughly one hour in length.
According to those opposed to Okamura remaining in office, the SPD chair has denigrated the suffering of Romani people during the Holocaust and should not represent the Czech Republic in a high constitutional function. Radim Fiala, the vice-chair of the SPD, objected to characterizing the movement as one of Holocaust deniers.
The convening of the extraordinary session had been instigated by the Christian Democrats after a motion to remove Okamura failed to be adopted last week during regular session. ANO announced last week that it would not support efforts to remove the SPD chair from the leadership of the lower house.
Okamura reportedly attended a meeting of the ANO legislators and apologized to his potential coalition partners for the controversial remarks. In January the SPD head had erroneously alleged that the WWII-era camp at Lety had not been fenced and that inmates had been able to come and go freely from it.
After his remarks caused alarm he then apologized for that statement and immediately erroneously alleged that the camp had not been guarded most of the time and that the prisoners had been able to move about freely inside it. He then objected to complaints that he had cast doubt on the Holocaust by making those remarks.
After Wednesday's vote on whether to convene an extraordinary session the MPs were meant to continue on to the program of a regular session to review bills. That regular session was interrupted when the TOP 09 faction first requested a break to convene separately, followed by the STAN faction requesting a similar break and the KDU-ČSL adding their request for a break until 19:00, which is when lower house sessions normally close.
Vice-chair Okamura was in charge of the session and suspended it due to the many requests for postponement. The MPs were meant to convene the next day for the inauguration of the President and then for yet another extraordinary session yesterday (Friday).
Yesterday's session was meant to review the personnel changes undertaken by the caretaker Government, which is acting without the confidence of Parliament. Regular session will continue on Tuesday, 20 March.
Politicians criticize failure to adopt agenda item on dismissing Okamura
Opposition politicians are criticizing the fact that MPs from ANO, the Communists (KSČM) and the SPD would not allow discussion on whether to remove Okamura from the function of vice-chair of the lower house because of his remarks. In addition to the remarks described above by Sobotka and Kalousek, the vice-chair of the STAN (Mayors and Independents) party, Vít Rakušan, said the Chamber of Deputies was experiencing the legitimizing of a distortion of history, while the chair of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), Pavel Bělobrádek, criticized the fact that neither Okamura nor any other member of the Government had resigned over the remarks.
After the KDU-ČSL attempted to remove Okamura last week during regular session they accumulated enough signatures to call for an extraordinary session. However, only speakers with privilege rights were allowed to speak prior to the vote on the agenda, which did not pass, so other legislators did not get a chance to comment on the issues involved on the floor of the lower house.
Sobotka took to twitter to criticize ANO and its chair, outgoing Czech PM Andrej Babiš. "The ANO movement of Babiš and the Communists have prevented discussion of dismissing Okamura for his racist remarks and casting doubt on the Holocaust of the Roma. Shame and disgrace!" he tweeted.
The chair of the Pirates, Ivan Bartoš, reminded those following his Facebook profile that his appeal to SDP legislators to allow an extraordinary session that would close with a secret ballot on whether to remove Okamura or not had also failed. "They have the dismissal of politicians in their own program and the word 'democracy' in their name. Tomio Okamura didn't even make any 'heroic' remarks," Bartoš posted online.
Bělobrádek (KDU-ČSL) also criticized the fact that Okamura did not address the extraordinary session and that the only SPD member to do so was SPD vice-chair Fiala, who enjoys the right of privilege. The KDU-ČSL chair said Fiala's speech was full of "absurdities, lies and stupidities".
The Christian Democrat was also bothered by the fact that none of the ministers present commented on the extraordinary session. "Nobody in the Government addressed the extraordinary session, no minister voted in favor of the discussion, including those who hypocritically criticize the SPD," he said.
The chair of the Christian Democratic faction in the lower house, Bartošek, reminded the press that the Czech PM had been on a visit to the Museum of Romani Culture even as the vote on the extraordinary session was underway. "Legislators from his movement did not even facilitate a discussion on the floor - I perceive this to be hypocrisy and spin," he said.
Bělobrádek also warned against the "tyranny of the majority" and noted that hatred can turn on the parties that disseminate it. Legislators from the TOP 09 party also called it hypocritical for the chair of ANO, outgoing Czech PM Babiš, to have been sharing his photographs from his visit to the Museum of Romani Culture online at the same time the vote was happening in the lower house.
The ANO legislators, according to TOP 09, had been supporting extremism and intolerance in the Chamber of Deputies at that very moment. "Whoever supports extremism and the spreading of hatred is the same as he who commits that behavior himself," Kalousek said.
The head of the STAN movement, Petr Gazdík, shared a transcript of the vote on whether or not to adopt the agenda of the extraordinary session. "All of those who have a red cross by their names did not want to allow a discussion about dismissing a person who casts doubt on the Holocaust while representing the Chamber of Deputies. This is a strong moment for each citizen of our country," he said.
As for STAN's vice-chair Rakušan, he said a distortion of history was being legitimized by ANO, the KSČM and the SPD, which together have the most votes in the lower house. "To not facilitate a vote, to not make it possible to even discuss this - that's Tomio Okamura's 'direct democracy'," he said.
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