Coalition talks collapse (again) as Topolanek turns back on Social Democrats

Mirek Topolanek and Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

Lengthy talks on forming a broad coalition government collapsed on Wednesday evening in an abrupt twist in the six-month political saga since inconclusive parliamentary elections in June. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats, who are running the country in what is essentially a provisional government, announced they were breaking off talks with the leftist Social Democrats.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
Until last night the Civic Democrats had been leading talks on forming a new government with cross-party support in parliament. Hopes were high that a deal could be reached. It appeared at least that the Civic Democrats and Social Democrats were close to reaching an agreement on a cabinet with the Christian Democrats, possibly supported by the Greens. The project, however, now lies in tatters after the Civic Democrats said they were no longer willing to talk to the Social Democrats.

Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek told the media the talks had collapsed because the two parties couldn't agree on major differences such as tax reform and the make-up of the new cabinet. But there's speculation that the Civic Democrats are betting on one or possibly two Social Democrat MPs crossing the floor and supporting a centre-right government in vote of confidence.

Milos Melcak,  photo: CTK
That's ever since a Social Democrat MP called Milos Melcak announced he was quitting the Social Democrat parliamentary party. A government made up of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Greens would need just one MP to defect from the Social Democrats and vote with them to make it work.

But Milos Melcak is sending out mixed messages. In one newspaper interview he said he would support such a government, in another he said it was premature to count on his support. His departure has also raised speculation about what he was offered - if anything - to betray his party and vote with the right. He denies he was offered anything. He says the country simply needs a government after six months in limbo.

Mirek Topolanek and Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
Such a government is not yet a fait accompli however. The Christian Democrats' new leader Jiri Cunek says he is opposed to a government because it would encourage accusations of corruption.

The president, Vaclav Klaus, has also said he doesn't want a government based on the support of a few rebel MPs, although under the constitution he can only refuse to appoint individual ministers and cannot reject the government as a whole.

Meanwhile, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has called on the president not to allow such a government to be formed, and has insisted on a meeting.

And finally, some analysts claim that Mr Topolanek and the Civic Democrats know in advance that such a shaky government is doomed to fail, and all this is just a way to bring early elections one step closer.