Czech government narrowly survives no-confidence vote
In the Czech Republic the government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Friday - the latest turn in a political crisis that began because of conflicting stories on how Mr Gross was able to pay for his luxury Prague apartment. The vote of no confidence was called by the main opposition Civic Democratic Party after one coalition party, the Christian Democrats, pulled out of the government over the apartment scandal.
"They survived after the opposition Communist Party abstained from the vote. This no-confidence motion was put forward by another opposition party - the right-of-centre Civic Democrats and it was that party plus Mr Gross' former coalition allies, the Christian Democrats, who voted against the government. But the Communists were really the king-makers of that situation. They abstained and Mr Gross lives to fight another day."
But does his further survival depend upon the Communists. Can he do anything without their support?
"He very much so does depend on them. He is now leading a minority government with his second coalition partner the right-of-centre Freedom Union and it is not sure what they will do, knowing now that their government is propped up by the Communists and Mr gross is going to have trouble, I'm sure, passing laws which the Communists don't like."
So how did this young prime minister and his government, which seemed to promise so much not so long ago, end up in this mess?
"Well, it's always been a fragile government right from the very outset. It commanded just 101 seats in the 200 seat lower house. So, it's always been very fragile and ideologically, it was quite diverse - a mixture of the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the right-of-centre Freedom Union. They were united by the desire to bring the Czech Republic into the European Union, which they did but they were also united to bring about some very serious reforms. These include reforms of the pension system, education, and health. I think that ultimately that's what perhaps broke the camel's back. What really brought this government down was the fact that it had such a huge workload of important reforms that it, in the end, didn't have the strength to carry them through."
So, when the Christian Democrats pulled out of the coalition this week, they were using the prime minister's apartment financing scandal an excuse to get out of it?
"That's right...the scandal started Mr Gross' apparent inability to explain how he bought this expensive apartment in the centre of Prague, which unusually for apartments in Prague has a swimming pool and is quite a luxurious flat. Anyway, he was unable to explain how he bought that flat in 1999. But then, further revelations appeared involving his wife and, in particular, her business partner. She [the business partner] owns a building in the north of Prague, which houses a brothel. She admits that but there were even allegations by some politicians and some newspapers that she was somehow involved in the running of that brothel. The Christian Democrats recently said that there was just no way they would support a government whose prime minister is married to someone who does business with someone who is basically laundering money through prostitution. That's ultimately the reason that the Christian Democrats put forward as to why they were withdrawing from the government.
"It has to be said that there is a lot more behind this story. The Christian Democrats have been in pretty much every government in post-Communist Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic and they will certainly be in the future government with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats who look like winning the next elections."