Czech Republic evidently heading for early elections

Photo: Kristýna Maková

The Czech Republic appears to be on course for early general elections after Wednesday’s failed vote of confidence in the interim government exposed fissures in the previous coalition, which had been hoping for another crack at power. The alliance has now fallen apart, with the votes of former member TOP 09 set to tip the balance and bring about the dissolution of Parliament.

Jiří Rusnok,  photo: CTK
Given the composition of the Czech lower house, it was no great surprise when, after an 11-hour debate on Wednesday, deputies did not give their backing to a caretaker cabinet installed by President Miloš Zeman and headed by Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok.

However, the vote count was hugely significant. Ninety-three of the MPs present supported the government, while 100 were against. Two deputies from the biggest party in the former coalition, the Civic Democrats, were absent, as was the leader of the smallest one, LIDEM.

Karolína Peake,  the head of LIDEM,  photo: CTK
Until that moment, the three-party alliance had claimed to have the support of 101 MPs, enough to secure a victory in the Chamber of Deputies and its justification for continuing to seek power.

The two Civic Democrats were subsequently declared traitors and expelled from the party’s parliamentary group, while the head of LIDEM quit.

But the real issue is that the failure to deliver the much discussed 101 votes split the three-party alliance. Within moments of the result being read out, a deputy from TOP 09 – the third grouping in the last government – took to the floor to call for a vote on the dissolution of Parliament, delivering on a previous party pledge.

TOP 09’s votes added to those of the Social Democrats and the Communists, who have from the off advocated early elections, would exceed the constitutional majority of 120 required to dissolve the lower house.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
The leaders of the three parties’ parliamentary associations held talks on Thursday, agreeing to jointly call an extraordinary session of the Chamber of Deputies for that purpose. It is likely to take place next week.

Elections must be held within 60 days of Parliament being dissolved, with a vote therefore likely in October.

The Social Democrats can fully expect to come first, after consistently topping the opinion polls for a long time. However, the party’s leader Bohuslav Sobotka may not get a chance to become prime minister.

Bohuslav Sobotka and Michal Hašek,  photo: CTK
In a speech to the Chamber of Deputies ahead of Wednesday’s vote, President Zeman said he would appoint a “representative” of the winning party as prime minister, pointedly failing to use the word “chairman”.

This is being regarded by many as an indication that the president could overlook Mr. Sobotka in favour of Michal Hašek, who has become one of his most willing allies in the lower house.