Czech government secures confidence vote but questions over Social Democrat unity remain

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK

On Tuesday the Czech government secured a crucial victory in a parliamentary confidence vote. The motion was called by the prime minister himself in an attempt to reassert the coalition's authority two weeks after it failed to unanimously support its joint candidate in Czech presidential elections. Not surprisingly this time the coalition held - it could hardly afford not to. With the slimmest of margins in the Lower House, and both opposition parties voting against, a single rebelling voice would have brought the government down.

Vladimir Spidla,  photo: CTK
In the end it was far less dramatic than predicted by pundits a week ago - not so much a gamble as a foregone conclusion - the coalition government voting unanimously in Tuesday's confidence vote - voting to avert collapse and to retain its hold on power. With 101 for and 99 against, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla gained what he wanted all along: to reassert the authority of the government, as well as to tighten his own hold over his own Social Democratic Party, divided by a small rebel faction dissatisfied with his leadership. The suspected rebel faction towed the line in the end, though the question now is how long the discipline will hold. Meanwhile, the opposition Civic Democrats and the Communists were adamant the government had used the confidence vote as a means for ironing out what were essentially internal affairs. Opposition Civic Democrat MPs Vlastimil Tlusty and Petr Necas:

"Unfortunately, it's clear for everybody that this vote in fact wasn't a vote about this coalition, it was a vote about the inside situation and inside troubles within the Social Democratic Party, and that's the reason why I said what's important for this country will happen at the end of this month..."

"The whole voting was about one person - Mr Spidla."

Do you think that now the government will be able to get to more important tasks at hand?

"So we will see, it will depend on real internal cohesion of this government, and this public voting is not possible to take as real support for the prime minister and his concept of government."

Photo: CTK
Social Democrat MP and president of the UN General Assembly Jan Kavan, however, rejects the notion the vote was superfluous:

"The government, following the failure of the government coalition to get their candidate elected to Prague Castle, wanted to be reassured that the situation had not changed within the assembly, that the division of political powers was the same as it was seven months ago, and the answer was an unequivocal 'Yes'."

Just how strong is the mandate that Mr Spidla has received several weeks ahead of the party convention? Does this significantly strengthen his position after a problematic first seven months?

"I think the mandate is as strong and as weak as it was seven months ago. I don't think anything has really changed."

After facing a series of difficult tests that include catastrophic floods last summer, a government crisis over a proposed tax plan, and a series of presidential election stalemates, the government now desperately needs to get down to business, to agree on necessary and long overdue reforms such as public finance and the pension system. The question is how soon, not all hurdles have yet been passed. In two week's time the Social Democratic Party will hold its party convention and it is expected that threats to Mr Spidla's leadership - quelled for the moment - will resurface there. If unchecked by Mr Spidla then, it will likely mean further turmoil for the current government.