Finance Minister tenders resignation

Pavel Mertlik

In a surprise move, Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik tendered his resignation on Tuesday morning. Citing an inability to influence government decisions, Mr Mertlik's decision to leave the minority Social Democrat government will no doubt be ascribed to his arch enemy within the cabinet, Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr. Nick Carey has this report.

Pavel Mertlik
Coming just two days after the end of the ruling Social Democrat Party's national conference, and the morning after a Cabinet session, many people, including some members of the government, were caught completely off-guard by Mr Mertlik's sudden decision to resign. Mr Mertlik is widely reported to have clashed with Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr, some forty years his senior, on a number of occasions since his appointment in 1999, but according to commentator Vaclav Zak, the two men were at odds right from the very start:

"It was clear from the very beginning that the programme of the Social Democratic Party that was prepared by Mr Mertlik was not fully compatible with the programme of Minister Gregr, who had his own plans. It was clear from the very beginning that there would be serious conflicts between these two men. But, in the beginning Mr Mertlik had greater support in the government, so he was able to prevent some of the measures put forward by Mr Gregr. But he has lost his support within the government and now he's unable to prevent proposals prepared by Mr Gregr."

The ruling Social Democrats changed leadership at the national conference at the weekend, with Vladimir Spidla replacing Prime Minister Milos Zeman as party chairman. Vaclav Zak believes that Mr Mertlik's decision to tender his resignation may have followed a Cabinet decision made on Monday concerning the privatisation of the energy sector, which is the responsibility of the Trade and Industry Minister:

"What I can guess at is that his resignation followed the decision to change the selection of advisors for privatisation. So, I think that he was disappointed that even with the new chairman of the Social Democratic Party that his support within the government didn't change."

Pavel Mertlik has been relatively popular as a finance minister since he took office, and he is widely seen as being both honest and competent. According to Vaclav Zak, he is the best finance minister the country has had since the fall of communism in 1989:

"He was really admired. I would say that he was the best finance minister we have had in the past ten years. He was absolutely honest, he wasn't influenced by any pressure groups, so he has an excellent reputation."

As the move comes just a little over a year before the Czech are due to go to the polls in the next elections, the resignation of a popular minister such as Pavel Mertlik could have a negative impact on support for the ruling Social Democrats, who have not fared well in the polls for some time. Vaclav Zak believes that their support will drop, and with good reason:

"I would say that it should drop. If the government is able to lose such ministers and the party is not able to obtain support for such a minister, then this party deserves to lose popularity."