Czech Republic in crisis after rebel MP votes against govt tax reform

Vladimir Spidla, Photo:CTK

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla asked the junior coalition partner - the right-of-centre Freedom Union - to give up its three cabinet posts on Monday, amid a deepening political crisis in the country. The crisis began on Friday, when a Freedom Union MP - Hana Marvanova - went against her party and voted against government-proposed tax reforms, raising questions about the stability of the coalition. Rob Cameron has been following the story, how did this crisis happen Rob?

Vladimir Spidla, Photo:CTK
Well, the government had to come up with a package of measures to pay the estimated three billion dollar bill left by August's devastating floods. Part of these measures was a plan to raise taxes. The government wanted to raise the top personal tax bracket to 35 percent, and also increase VAT. The three coalition partners approved the tax proposal and submitted it to parliament. But the Freedom Union's Hana Marvanova said raising taxes went against her party's election promises, and voted against. As a result, it failed, producing this political crisis.

Is this really about taxes, or something deeper?

Just as in neighbouring Austria, this is really about the fundamental stability of ruling coalition, rather than about taxes per se. Hana Marvanova has been a thorn in side of both her own party and the coalition government ever since it was formed after the June elections. She was against the Freedom Union joining a coalition with the Social Democrats, and said she would vote according to her conscience, rather than along party lines. Observers said then that the government - which has a majority of just one vote in the lower house - would be extremely unstable, because it would be held to ransom by Hana Marvanova and other MPs aligned to the Freedom Union. Just three months after the government was formed, it seems those observers have been proved right.

Which all poses a bit of a problem for Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla.

Hana Marvanova, Photo:CTK
It certainly does. Obviously the government can't be on the verge of collapse every time it wants to push through important legislation. The Freedom Union asked Hana Marvanova to give up her seat in the lower house, so they could replace her with someone guaranteed to support government policy. This she refused to do, so now it's up to Mr Spidla to decide what to do next. There are few other options left open to him - he can keep the Freedom Union in coalition, on condition that the party's 10 MPs promise to support government legislation. Or he can kick them out, and form a minority government with the support of either the Communists or the Civic Democrats. Or he can form a strong majority government with the Communists - which is almost certain not to happen, because the Communists are still political pariahs, at least at national level. But this whole episode does not bode well for next four years. It's not impossible that the government will stay together long enough to steer Czech Republic into the European Union around 2004 - which is what all the parties except the Communists want - and then simply collapse.