With deadlock in lower house series of confidence votes possible

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

The leadership of the Civic Democrats, who came first in this past weekend's general elections, have launched official talks on forming a new coalition government. After party chairman Mirek Topolanek was entrusted by President Vaclav Klaus to lead the talks, he introduced his negotiating team, who are to hold talks with the Christian Democrats and the Green Party. Those three parties together have exactly 100 seats in the 200-seat lower house, so actually forming a government will not be straightforward, and could involve several votes of confidence. But how does the Czech system actually work?

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
After giving a political mandate to Civic Democrat chief Mirek Topolanek on Monday, President Klaus also convened the new lower house of parliament. The final date of its first working session is yet to be set but once the newly elected chamber meet, the outgoing government will resign but will stay in office until a new government is appointed.

In the middle of next week, Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek will report back to the president on the state of coalition negotiations. When agreement is reached, the president will officially appoint a new prime minister. The constitution does not specify who it should be, but the usual choice is the head of the winning party, or a person recommended by him. The president will then appoint government ministers on the recommendation of the prime minister.

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Within 30 days of being appointed, the new cabinet must ask the lower house for a vote of confidence. A simple majority of those present in the 200-seat chamber is enough to win. That means that opposition MPs can enable the confidence vote to be passed by simply leaving the chamber before the vote takes place.

If it fails the confidence vote, the government will be forced to resign. The president then appoints another prime minister and a new cabinet, which again must seek confidence in the lower house. If the second attempt also fails, the president appoints the third prime minister on the recommendation of the chairman of the lower house. The third government again must seek confidence. If a third cabinet also fails to win approval, the president can dissolve the chamber. In that case, a new election would be called within 60 days.

A new election could also be called through a constitutional change, where a three-fifths majority in both the lower house and the Senate agree to shorten the lower house's term. This was done to call an early election in 1998.