Civic and Social Democrats not yet able to agree on support for minority government

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

Prime Minister designate Mirek Topolanek has set until the end of next week as a deadline to try and reach a deal with the Social Democrats on support for his proposed minority Civic Democrat government. It would be an understatement to say that the devil is in the details, and sticking points have been several. Almost three months after the election ended in parliamentary deadlock, it is still unclear when the country will see a new government.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
Negotiations on support for a new minority government haven't been easy and so far this week have so far ended in failure rather than success, at least in the public eye. On Monday, the Social Democrats led by Jiri Paroubek angrily walked out of talks and a good deal of bluster, accusations, and finger-pointing followed - both his as well as the Civic Democrat camp. Then, on Tuesday, further meetings were pushed aside. This has raised questions whether there can be agreement between the Civic and Social Democrats at all or whether the country has taken a step closer to early elections. Analyst Jiri Pehe - a former advisor to Vaclav Havel - says that what the public is seeing at the moment is a certain amount of posturing from both sides, but thinks that agreement, eventually, will be reached.

"We are seeing a game of swords in which politicians from both parties are trying to create the impression that they are not dependent on each other, but at the same time they are working behind the scenes on an agreement that will make dependent on each other, in other words a hidden grand coalition in which one party will be able to govern with a few non-partisans in the government and the other party, in return for certain concessions, will tolerate the ruling party. Both parties are trying very hard to convince the public they are not in a grand coalition, especially the Civic Democrats who repeatedly promised before elections that they wouldn't enter a grand coalition. What we are seeing is basically posturing and I think both sides are close to reaching agreement."

Still, that has not been reached yet, and it is possible that prime minister designate Topolanek may feel pushed too far, beyond where his party can willingly or realistically go: one sticking point, for example, so far has been Mr Paroubek's insistence that the new government's rule be strictly limited to a two-year term, something that has been unacceptable for Mr Topolanek, for obvious reasons. Two years would leave his cabinet at a clear disadvantage: too little time and too much pressure to make a real mark. Political analyst Bohumil Dolezal:

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
"It is not an easy situation for the Civic Democrats and I think that they have made many unnecessary concessions to the Social Democrats [so far]. If it continues this way in a certain sense for them it will be political suicide. At this moment the only dignified solution would be early elections."

If negotiations, in the end, come to nought, Prime Minister Topolanek will not be left many options: first, his proposed cabinet can try but likely fail in a confidence vote, and that would lead to a second stage, whereby rival Jiri Paroubek would be allowed to try his hand at forming a government, something promised him by the president. There, however, the Social Democrats would also be one vote short - as realistically they can depend only on support from the Communists. In order to be more successful than Mr Topolanek, Jiri Paroubek would need to produce a hidden ace. Analyst Jiri Pehe again:

"It is possible that Paroubek knows something that the public doesn't at this point, one reason for the hardened stance in recent days. Maybe he knows of one or two Greens who would be willing to support his government. It can not be excluded. But at this point what the deputies of the Green Party are saying and those people seem to be united, is that they don't seem willing to support him."