Centre-right coalition dead, talks on new government start afresh

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

Two months after the country's inconclusive general elections negotiations on a new government are back to square one. A centre right coalition between the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens was pronounced dead on Friday for lack of support and President Klaus urged the leaders of the two strongest parties on the right and left - the Civic and Social Democrats - to find an alternative solution that would end the drawn-out stalemate.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
The spotlight is now on the leaders of the two strongest parties on the Czech political scene -Mirek Topolanek of the Civic Democrats, whose election victory has long since turned sour and Jiri Paroubek of the Social Democrats who has adroitly used the even split of power between the left and right blocks in the lower house to his best advantage - turning his election defeat into an impasse.

If anything the two months of futile talks have weakened Mr. Topolanek's position both within his party and on the Czech political scene. On Friday President Klaus refused to appoint him prime minister designate and entrust him with the task of forming a new government, merely telling the two biggest parties to go back to the negotiating table and find an acceptable compromise.

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
After weeks of what Mr. Topolanek describes as "obstruction and destruction" the Social Democrat leader has thus finally got his way - he is to deal with the Civic Democrat leader on a one-on-one basis. Mr. Paroubek will almost certainly try to force his rival's hand, pushing for a semi-political cabinet or government of experts in which his party would have a big stake. Mr. Topolanek meanwhile insists that there are only two alternatives on the table - a minority Civic Democrat government with support from the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and Greens or a caretaker administration leading to early elections.

Although the Civic Democrats are still ruling out a German style grand coalition political analyst Jiri Pehe says circumstances are pushing both parties in that direction and that any compromise reached will just be a variation of a grand coalition:

" A grand coalition can take on different forms - it can be a government consisting of politicians of the two parties -top politicians - but it can also be a government of experts which is backed by the two largest parties or it can be a government in which one party has politicians and the smaller - or less successful one / ie. the Social Democratic Party/ will nominate only experts."

In the ensuing battle of wills it is the Civic Democratic Party leader who will be at a disadvantage. Unlike the outgoing prime minister who rules his party with an iron hand, Mr. Topolanek's position at the head of the Civic Democrats may be shaky with reports of a power struggle within party ranks. And knowing this, Mr. Paroubek has put the heat on him - saying that unless an agreement is reached soon he would effect a cabinet re-shuffle and ask the lower house for a vote of confidence.