Czech president refuses to appoint Topolanek government

Vaclav Klaus with Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

Back in October President Vaclav Klaus indicated he would not tolerate any government without wider political backing - that is a government relying on just a few votes by so-called defector MPs. On Thursday, he made good on his promise, surprising the prime minister and some observers during a live broadcast when he pointedly refused to appoint Mr Topolanek's cabinet. That is a second attempt at forming a viable government since elections ended in stalemate in June.

Vaclav Klaus with Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
Thursday, at around three pm in Prague Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek most certainly didn't expect this: a refusal by the Czech president to appoint his three-party coalition, made-up of the Civic and the Christian Democrats and the Greens. Following tough negotiations to hammer out a deal - one that its backers see as a last chance for key reforms - the prime minister must have thought the president would re-neg on an earlier warning he would not appoint a cabinet lacking wider political support.

Not only did the president refuse, Mr Klaus went even further, expressing strong reservations, for example, over one of the cabinet nominees, Karel Schwarzenberg, on the grounds his naming could destabilise Bohemian relations. Senator Schwarzenberg is a descendent of the former Bohemian gentry. Mr Klaus' refusal, and some of the reasoning behind it, has caused something of a political maelstrom: normally the appointing of the cabinet is viewed more-or-less as a formality. Now, many have suggested the president overstepped his bounds. Political analyst Petr Just:

"I agree with one of the authors of the constitution Vojtech Cepl, who said on TV that the constitution says 'the president appoints members of the cabinet upon the prime minister's proposal and it does not say anything about the president having any kind of veto powers. The president has to accept the prime minister's proposal. Therefore, I see Mr Topolanek's proposal and behaviour more within the framework of the constitution than Mr Klaus'."

Tomas Lebeda another of the country's high-profile analysts agrees:

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
"By definition, the role of the president is a weak one, and Mr Klaus should respect the proposal put forward by the prime minister he chose."

Will the president be forced to budge? That is the big question: if the prime minister sticks to his guns, there is strong suggestion he'd have to. Certainly, on Thursday it appeared Mr Topolanek would take a tough stance: he made no bones about rejecting the president's complaints. But, on Friday morning Mr Topolanek actually indicated a willingness to go back to negotiating table. Petr Just once again:

"If Mr Topolanek accepts the president's statement, the idea that he should go back to negotiations, then he may actually go back to his political partners and he will probably make contact with the Social Democrats to try and get support, only then returning to the president with a new idea."

Any changes renegotiated, though, may have ulterior motives: some in the Civic Democrat executive were reportedly not at all pleased their party gave up two of the most importance seats in the three-party coalition: the finance and foreign ministries. Now, it's possible the three parties may modify their proposal slightly. As for negotiating wider support, that too remains an open question, one that may be readdressed after the coming holidays.