Coalition agreement signed but does new "government" have real chance?

Pavel Bem, Mirek Topolanek, Miroslava Nemcova, photo: CTK

After three long weeks of negotiations, the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens have just signed an agreement to form a government. But the centre-right coalition faces an uphill battle; one seat short of a majority, it cannot win a vote of confidence without the support of the Social Democrats. So, does the coalition agreed on Monday have a real chance of governing? Dita Asiedu reports:

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
On Sunday the Civic Democrat leadership called on the government of Jiri Paroubek to resign and make way for the centre-right coalition's new cabinet. An optimistic call, analysts say, because the new coalition, which is one vote short of a majority in the lower house of parliament, faces two important challenges - the election of a new speaker of the lower house this Thursday, and a confidence vote in about three weeks' time.

The Communists have ruled out any support, so developments in the next few weeks could well hinge on the only party left in the lower house - the Social Democrats. Outgoing prime minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek says his party will not be influenced by any posts it is offered but by the coalition's policy programme. Political commentator Petr Just:

"It's really quite general and I think that the Social Democrats could agree with most of the programme. But there are still at least three things that I think will be a little problematic. There is the flat tax, which is something that Mr Paroubek and the Social Democrats mentioned as one of the worst things in the Civic Democrats' programme. So, this is one major problem. The second is that the coalition agreed to abolish the law on non-profit hospitals, which was actually passed by the Social Democrats together with the Communists in the past month. The third issue on which I think they could clash is the deregulation of rent."

Pavel Bem, Mirek Topolanek, Miroslava Nemcova, photo: CTK
Thursday's election of a new lower house speaker is significant because whoever is elected will have the power to appoint a prime minister, if two attempts at forming a government fail. The three parties of the emerging centre-right coalition support Civic Democrat Miroslava Nemcova, but the Social Democrats would like the current speaker, Lubomir Zaoralek, to remain in the post.

Jiri Paroubek and Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who founded the Civic Democratic Party and is now its honorary chairman, has also joined in the debate. Mr Paroubek should not get his hopes up if the first attempt at forming a new government fails, he said. Mr Klaus suggests the two leading parties sign an agreement in which the Social Democrats pledge to support a vote of confidence in return for their choice of candidate at the helm of the lower house. Commentator Just:

"Mr Paroubek is a very pragmatic leader. He knows what he wants to do and how to do it. I think he is thinking very much ahead and I am pretty sure that he is thinking about promising some kind of support for the coalition. Then, when Mr Zaoralek will be elected as speaker of the lower house, he could find something that will make him unable to support the government. This can happen easily at this time."

So although a new coalition agreement was signed on Monday, political analysts agree that we will have to see a lot more negotiating, and some concessions, if Czech voters are to be spared early elections.