Government crisis: faint signs of compromise

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK

On Monday another voice was added to the row over Prime Minister Stanislav Gross's private finances. The veteran of the Czech political scene with the reputation of one of Central Europe's elder statesmen, Vaclav Havel, added his voice to the debate. Interestingly, he was sympathetic towards the beleaguered prime minister.

Vaclav Havel
This is what Mr Havel had to say:

"I must say I'm disappointed with the way things are looking in the government. What really upsets me is the way that whenever someone becomes the most popular politician in the country, there always follows a campaign to kick him in the heels."

I'm joined by David Vaughan, who is following developments. Has anything happened over the last 24 hours?

"There haven't been any drastic developments. It was interesting hearing what Mr Havel had to say. He is a figure with a good deal of moral authority, and his take was that he couldn't really see anything seriously wrong in Mr Gross's private finances - although he didn't hide his more serious misgivings about the business dealings of Mr Gross's wife Sarka. In the last few days the focus does seem to have shifted towards her and away from the PM himself."

On Saturday the Christian Democrats, which have three ministers in the government, said that Mr Gross must go. Have they toned down their rhetoric?

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and the Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
"To some extent I think they have. It's clear that they're regrouping at the moment. Certainly at the level of the more junior leadership of both the Christian Democrats and Mr Gross's Social Democrats, there have been signs of some reconciliation. But the Christian Democrat leader, Miroslav Kalousek continues to call for Mr Gross to go. On the other hand Mr Kalousek has said that what really bother him are the financial affairs of the prime minister's wife than the PM himself. She has now promised to abandon all her business activities outright, so Mr Kalousek might be tempted to accept this as an olive branch, even if Mr Gross stays on as prime minister."

And I gather that the President, Vaclav Klaus, has also intervened actively for the first time.

"Yes, he'll be meeting both party leaders on Wednesday, and has called on them both to try to be constructive and find a way out of the blind alley. Unlike the party which he used to lead, the opposition Civic Democrats, Mr Klaus has made it clear that he doesn't favour the idea of early elections, and would prefer the current coalition to stick together until elections in two years' time."

So where do we go from here?

"A lot depends on Wednesday's talks. There are signals that both sides are stepping back from the brink, and what the coalition parties may well try to do is to gain a bit of extra time to reassess the situation and weigh up the options."