A long and winding road to early elections

Premier Stanislav Gross - rechts (Foto: CTK)
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The drawn out Czech government crisis is fast approaching a climax. The Christian Democrats, one of the smaller parties in the coalition government, have given the strongest party, the Social Democrats, an ultimatum: either the Prime Minister Stanislav Gross resigns over his and his wife's questionable financial dealings or the Christian Democrats will trigger the collapse of the government.

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
Daniela Lazarova has been following the story. Daniela, we've been discussing the possible fall of the government for weeks now -is this really the end of the road?

"That's never an easy question to answer in Czech politics, but next weekend the Social Democrats' party conference should set the wheels in motion one way or another and some decision will have to be reached. Interestingly, while at the start of the crisis most Czech commentators predicted that it would blow over - mainly because of the coalition parties' survival instincts - now they are inclined to believe that all the roads lead to early elections, and that they are all long and winding."

So what are the alternatives?

"Well, there's the unlikely alternative of the Prime Minister resigning of his own accord, or resigning if he failed to get enough support from his own party- in which case the government would fall. And then the President would have to initiate negotiations on a new government. If such talks were to fail three times in a row that would open the way to early elections.

"The second alternative is that the Social Democrats will continue to back the Prime Minister and the Christian Democrats will either propose a deal on early elections or walk out of the coalition government. They have said that if they can make a deal on early elections with their coalition partners their ministers could remain in Cabinet for the duration. And in the past 24 hours the ruling Social Democrats have for the first time openly admitted that early elections are a possibility. It would shorten their election term somewhat, but only by about eight months because early elections would take place in the autumn at the earliest.

The Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
"A third alternative would entail a minority Social Democrat government with support from the Communist party - but that is difficult to envisage - the Social Democrats would completely lose face and it would be too high a price to pay for a few months in office. So a deal on early elections seems the most likely alternative, since it holds the most advantages for all parties involved. The ball is now in the Social Democrats' court and it will be up to them to decide at their party conference next weekend which of those roads they want to go down."

What about the public, how does the public feel about what's happening?

"The public is extremely weary of it all. I've often heard people discussing it in the street, on trams and in pubs and the most frequent reaction is disgust with the whole situation and anger that the government is not devoting its time to matters of public interest, such as the health and pension reforms. Support for the Prime Minister has plummeted from its original 80 percent to a mere 18 percent and there are now billboards all over Prague reading " I am ashamed of my Prime Minister". There's even an internet page on which Czechs express their views about the Prime Minister and it's not something he would enjoy reading. So I think that, more than anything, Czechs want the situation resolved one way or another so they can have a government that is ready to do some work."