Czech government seeks to get back on track following budget wobble

Jan Fischer, photo: CTK

The Czech caretaker government has moved quickly to shore itself up after being badly shaken last week by a vote in parliament which torpedoed its budget package for 2010. Prime Minister Jan Fischer has acted to put the budget back on its original tracks and clarify his support from the major parties which put him in power.

The calm after the storm is what Jan Fischer’s government is attempting to find following the continuing fallout from last week’s budget defeat in parliament. That vote wrecked the government’s carefully constructed financial plans and ruptured the bi-partisan support it has enjoyed from the two main political parties since taking office in May.

Jan Fischer,  photo: CTK
During the vote, the left-wing parties, the Social Democrats and Communists, took the lead in pushing through around 12.5 billion crowns in fresh spending, mostly on wages of teachers, civil servants and other public workers, and higher income for farmers. A seething right-wing Civic Democrat Party angrily accepted the changes in preference to the even worse option of a provisional budget based on this year’s financial plans.

Stung by defeat and what they saw as the government’s failure to battle for its budget, bitter Civic Democrat leaders warned that they would reassess their stance towards the caretaker government and warned they might withdraw their ministers from it.

Prime Minister Fischer hit back on Monday with a stark message to political leaders that they are responsible for what happens in parliament and challenged them to spell out where they now stood.

“I think that it is now the turn of the political parties to express their position with regard to the government and how they cooperate with it. It is in their interest to communicate. Parliament has the possibility to decide how it acts, to define and formulate its stand. That includes the call for a vote of no confidence.”

Prime Minister Fischer’s government also began to fill in the holes made by last week’s budget vote. Around 5.0 billion crowns will be pumped from dividends from state-controlled power giant ČEZ with around 7.0 billion crowns scraped together from ministry budgets. This allowed him to pledge that everything will be done to keep next year’s public budget deficit at the original target of around 163 billion crowns or around 5.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

Those steps paved the way for a meeting with Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek on Tuesday morning. According to Prime Minister Fischer, Mr Topolánek gave his support to the government on condition that it continues on its anti-deficit course.

Political commentator Jiří Pehe says part of the government’s problems have stemmed from its high popularity with the Czech public and the fact that politicians have been denied their chance in the spotlight.

“Political parties are a bit envious of this government and its popularity and by the Prime Minister who is hugely popular. And they feel left out. This is probably one reason. And, of course, the televised budget was a good chance for them to be seen and show what they stand for.”

Finance Minister Eduard Janota,  photo: CTK
Partly because of that popularity, Mr. Pehe predicts the parties will not want to shake the government too much for fear of bringing it down before parliamentary elections in May.

“I would be very surprised if this government fell before the elections. It is really not in the interest of the major parties in parliament. They know they would create a huge crisis by toppling this government. So in my opinion we can be basically sure that this government will survive until the elections.”

And he predicts it could have some success in its more ambitious hopes of not only finalising next year’s budget but also setting the course for that of 2011.