Embattled Rusnok cabinet to face vote of confidence next Wednesday

Jiří Rusnok, photo: Filip Jandourek

The Czech lower house will meet next Wednesday for a vote of confidence in the caretaker administration of Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok. The government, widely viewed as President Zeman’s puppet administration, so far lacks the support needed for it to gain legitimacy and the centre-right parties see the upcoming vote as an open clash of wills with President Miloš Zeman and an important test for the country’s parliamentary democracy.

Jiří Rusnok,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Although the cabinet of prime minister Jiří Rusnok appears to have scant hope of winning a vote of confidence in the lower house and has yet to unveil its policy programme, it has already taken a firm grip on the reins of power. Deputy ministers and heads of departments have been sacked, the finance minister has announced his decision to replace politicians on the supervisory boards of state companies, the justice minister has proposed to re-draft the former government’s bill on state attorneys and the head of Czech Railways has just been sacked for incompetence. Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok is standing firmly behind his cabinet’s decisions and has announced that it is time to correct the mistakes of the past administration and to jump start the economy using assets lying idle in state companies.

While this decisive rhetoric appears to have won approval from a public tired of corruption scandals and austerity measures, parties both right and left of centre point out that the Rusnok cabinet lacks a proper mandate for such far-reaching changes. It is the first administration in the country’s history to have been formed without first gaining broad political support and there is general agreement that it should not make important decisions until it has gained full legitimacy.

Miroslava Němcová,  photo: Jan Sklenář
The centre-right parties of the former coalition claim that the very existence of the Rusnok cabinet is in violation of the country’s parliamentary democracy since there is majority support in the lower house for a centre-right coalition led by Civic Democrat deputy chairwoman Miroslava Němcová. And they say they will vote as one man against not only the Rusnok administration but any other the president may try to push through without respecting the present balance of power in the Chamber of Deputies.

Even left-of-centre parties, who say the caretaker administrations’ priorities are close to their own, have not promised to support the Rusnok cabinet. The Social Democrats, who have been pushing for early elections, appear to be divided on whether to support the interim government, the Communist Party has said it will make up its mind just ahead of the vote and Public Affairs likewise remains non-committal. The president’s own unprecedented effort to negotiate support for the Rusnok cabinet by trying to play parties and factions against each other has also brought few tangible results.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
Should the Rusnok government fail to win its vote of confidence next Wednesday, the ball will once again be in the president’s court. It will be up to him to pick a new prime minister designate who will make a second attempt at forming a cabinet. Miroslava Němcová of the Civic Democrats and Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats will both be waiting in the wings, but the president could choose someone entirely different or decide to procrastinate and allow the Rusnok administration to continue in office without a vote of confidence. He may even decide to give Prime Minister Rusnok himself another chance to form an interim administration. While Ms Němcová may rest assured that as the speaker of the lower house she will get the third attempt at forming a government there is no saying when that time may come or if it will come at all before the scheduled general election in May of next year.