Breakthrough in Czech government crisis: PM offers to resign

Primer ministro checo, Stanislav Gross (Foto: CTK)

Thursday finally brought a breakthrough in the long drawn-out government crisis: the embattled Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross made a shock announcement: he said he was ready to step down and allow a new government to form under a different leader from his own party.

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
Daniela Lazarova has been following the story - Daniela, the PM has been digging his heels in for weeks, refusing to leave his post - what brought about this sudden U-turn on his part?

Well, David I think the Prime Minister and his party leadership finally realized that they'd manoeuvred themselves into a blind alley and that a minority government based on communist support was simply not going to be accepted in this country. After the Communist party helped the PM survive his no confidence vote in Parliament the coalition government just unravelled - five ministers resigned and others threatened to follow. So the Gross government was virtually "falling apart".

You said the PM had offered to resign - why didn't he just do so?

That's a very good question. It's obviously quite unusual for a PM who has lost so much of his support base, to actually lay down conditions on his way out - which is what Mr. Gross is doing. It might be his way of trying to make a dignified exit. His potential resignation was only announced after the President made a public statement saying that he would give the Social Democrats the chance to form a new Cabinet with the same coalition parties - the Christian Democrats and Freedom Union - meaning that his resignation would not have to lead to early elections. And, Mr. Gross has added a few conditions of his own, saying that he would step down only when the line up of this new government had been agreed on, and that none of the prominent party officials whom he accuses of breaking up his Cabinet should be in it. In other words: none of his arch enemies.

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
So what would the new Czech government be like?

It would be made up of the same three coalition parties, which means a tiny majority in parliament, and as Mr. Gross says it should be a government with a "pro-European majority", which would bear responsibility for the ratification of the European Constitution. Both the smaller parties in the current coalition say this is an acceptable solution and are willing to enter into negotiations on forming such a government.

What does the opposition say?

Of course, the opposition Civic Democrats, who have been pushing for early elections, predict that it will be a weak government made up of second-league players who will just tread water in order to keep the three parties in power for another year and who will not be up to tackling the badly needed health and pension reforms.

But has President Klaus given this scenario the green light?

Czech ambassador to the EU Jan Kohout, photo: CTK
Yes, he has. The president has been calling for an effective solution to the crisis for weeks. He was strictly opposed to a minority government supported by the communists and given the fact that the Czech Constitution makes it so difficult to call early elections, then the resignation of the man who is at the centre of the row - and who is considered the biggest hurdle to reaching an agreement - would appear to be a step towards breaking the deadlock.

Finally, is there any speculation as to who might be the next PM?

Well, the media say that one of the serious candidates for the post is Jan Kohout currently the Czech ambassador to the EU, but its early to say as yet.