Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas quits amid corruption scandal

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Petr Nečas bowed to mounting pressure from the opposition and his own coalition partners on Sunday, announcing his decision to step down over a scandal that has shaken the government to its foundations. The move, which has effectively brought down the coalition government, has plunged the country into a period of political uncertainty almost a year ahead of scheduled general elections.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Following days of mounting political pressure Civic Democrat Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced late on Sunday that he was accepting personal responsibility for a spying and corruption scandal that came too close to home, heavily implicating his own chief-of-staff, with whom he has been romantically linked.

“I am fully aware of how the twists and turns of my personal life are burdening the Czech political scene and my own Civic Democratic Party. I have therefore decided to step down both as prime minister and party chairman. It is my hope that the centre-right coalition will survive this crisis and that a Civic Democrat successor can be found who will win broad support, form a new centre-right government and lead the country to scheduled general elections in May of 2014.”

While the ruling parties have all voiced support for this scenario, the matter is no longer entirely in their hands and the chances of preserving the centre-right coalition are highly uncertain. Under the Czech Constitution, the prime minister’s resignation means the fall of the entire government, after which it is up to the president to name a new prime minister designate. While tradition ordains that it should be the leader of the strongest party in the Chamber of Deputies, there is nothing to prevent President Miloš Zeman, a political opponent of Petr Nečas, following his own council and either working to pave the way for early elections or pushing for an interim government which would greatly strengthen his own position on the Czech political scene.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
Moreover, finding a suitable successor to the prime minster will not be as easy as it may seem. The candidate will have to be approved by the Civic Democrat’s coalition partners, TOP 09 and LIDEM. And TOP 09 has already made it clear that while it wants to preserve the ruling coalition it is not prepared to approve any candidate put forward. Moreover, the party, which has long jostled for power with the weakened Civic Democrats, may see a strong Civic Democrat leader as a threat to its own chances in the next general elections.

TOP 09 deputy chair Miroslav Kalousek indicated on Monday that the party would suit its own best interests in the matter.

“We have the strength and the will to continue in office. However this depends on settling on a broadly acceptable candidate and winning majority support for a new centre-right government in the lower house. If we fail to agree on a suitable successor, or do not win support for a new centre-right administration, which is possible, then we must aim for a speedy agreement on premature elections.”

Even if President Zeman were to name a prime minister designate from the outgoing coalition, the three parties do not have an outright majority guaranteed. In the past they have had to rely on support from several independents whose stand in any given vote is highly uncertain. A government born under such circumstances would be weak and extremely vulnerable to pressure.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The opposition parties meanwhile are vehemently opposed to efforts to save the ruling coalition. They accuse the ruling parties of trying to hang onto power at any coast and say the only honorable way out of the crisis is a snap vote. However, they too lack the strength to bring them about on their own, since the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies and early elections requires a constitutional majority of 120 votes.

The country’s political future is therefore highly uncertain and all eyes are now on President Zeman, whose position has been greatly bolstered by the crisis.