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Czech president raises doubts over some in next PM's cabinet

Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leader Bohuslav Sobotka speaks to the media in front of the Lany chateau after meeting President Milos
Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leader Bohuslav Sobotka speaks to the media in front of the Lany chateau after meeting President Milos

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman said on Friday he was concerned about the qualifications of some of the cabinet ministers chosen by Bohuslav Sobotka, signaling yet more wrangling before a new government can be appointed.

Zeman confirmed he would appoint Social Democrat leader Sobotka as the next prime minister on January 17, after months of political stalemate, but raised questions over the team he wants to lead the country out of a record-long recession.

Zeman had told Reuters on Thursday that he had reservations about some nominations, but said it was "very realistic" to expect the cabinet would be appointed by the end of January.

"I believe it will be possible to discuss alternatives and this discussion will take place in the interval between naming the prime minister and appointing the government," he said during a 40-minute televised news conference.

He said he had concerns over the qualifications and skills of some ministers and was also worried about a security clearance that was not given to one nominee, without identifying who he was referring to.

Czech media said the doubts raised could refer to Sobotka's choice for interior minister, Milan Chovanec, who received a degree from a law faculty that was hit by a scandal involving fast-tracking degrees for some students.

Chovanec said he had his degree checked by the new management of the faculty in question, which had confirmed it. He has also pledged not to use his BA title while in politics.

Another objection could be for the industry minister nominee, Jan Mladek, who once applied for security clearance but did not receive it. Mladek said on Friday his clearance was not denied, but merely stopped in 2007 because he no longer held public office. He said he was ready to apply again.

Zeman has pushed his largely ceremonial powers since winning the first direct presidential election a year ago.

He is a former Social Democrat prime minister who later split with the party and has had poor relations with Sobotka for a decade, after he and others from the party thwarted Zeman's first bid to become president.

Sobotka said that none of Zeman's reservations would make him change his nominations.

"I assume the president has the option not to name a member of the government only for truly serious legal or constitutional reasons," he said in a statement. "I do not consider today's reservations from the president as such."

The Social Democrat party is set to come to power for the first time since 2006 after winning an early election in October, called after the collapse of a centre-right cabinet due to a spying and bribery scandal.

Sobotka has negotiated a three-party coalition with centrist anti-graft movement ANO, led by billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, and the Christian Democrats.

The country has been led by a caretaker cabinet, that failed to win parliament's backing, for the past half year, bogging down policymaking as the country works its way out of recession.

(Writing by Michael Kahn and Jason Hovet; Editing by Alison Williams)

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