Are biggest parties heading for a "coalition agreement"?

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

It's been over a month since Czechs went to the polls and yet the country still lacks a new government. With the number of seats in parliament split equally between the left and the centre and right parties, attempts at forming it have so far gone nowhere. Early elections have been ruled out by all parties but talks on forming coalitions or minority governments have also failed to make headway. A new development on Tuesday, though, could lead to another way out of political deadlock. Dita Asiedu reports:

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
It was clear from the very start that the Civic Democrats, who won most votes in the elections, would be faced with a difficult task. Their three-party coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Greens is one vote short of a majority in parliament. And neither the Communists nor the Social Democrats, who have been in government for the last eight years, have shown any intention of helping it pass a vote of confidence.

On Monday, an invitation by Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek for the Social Democrats to join a four-party coalition was also rejected. This would have allowed the Social Democrats to be part of the new government but would have made it difficult for them to dissolve it, should they decide to leave the coalition some time in the future.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
But on Tuesday the Social Democrats made their own proposals. Party leader and outgoing Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said his party would be willing to join the Civic Democrats to form a caretaker government or support a minority Civic Democrat cabinet.

Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek was quick to reject the offers: "We have signaled long enough before the elections that both such proposals are unacceptable to us," Mr Topolanek said. But Mr Paroubek also offered to join forces with the Civic Democrats and change the electoral law: "We would consider making such changes, which would strengthen the bigger parties," Mr Paroubek said.

President Vaclav Klaus in Romania, photo: CTK
While the Civic Democrats have rejected this proposal too, their founder and current Czech President Vaclav Klaus has been a staunch supporter of an amendment to the electoral system. He has also not opposed the possibility of a Grand Coalition. Though on a three-day trip to Romania on Tuesday Mr Klaus said he would join government talks to help find a way out of political deadlock: "I am willing to meet with the five leaders of the parliamentary parties after I return from Romania to hear their opinions," he said.

The latest developments have set the stage for talks on an opposition agreement - one that Czechs are already familiar with. Under such an agreement, from 1998 to 2002, the Social Democrats formed a minority government and won parliamentary approval in exchange for the Civic Democrats gaining the chairmanship of the Chamber of Deputies. Vaclav Klaus, who led the Civic Democrats at the time, welcomed the deal as it was a way of knocking out the smaller parties in parliament. The same agreement could be signed again - only this time it would be the Civic Democrats in government.