Government falls in no-confidence vote

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek fell in Tuesday’s vote of no-confidence in the Chamber of Deputies. The opposition, together with four MPs elected on coalition party tickets, succeeded in its fifth attempt to topple the cabinet. The prime minister will now deliver his resignation to President Václav Klaus, and await his next step.

Jiří Paroubek,  photo: CTK
It took all 97 opposition MPs and four rebel deputies in the lower house on Tuesday to bring down Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet - and it was just enough. Last minute political talks that the prime minister held with rebelling deputies failed, and the opposition managed to secure 101 votes against the cabinet. Afterwards the prime minister told reporters that what would follow now would be a standard political procedure.

“I was not going let anyone blackmail me, and I didn’t. In any case, this is a standard situation, and the government will follow the rules. I’ll deliver my resignation to the president, as the Constitution says. We believe the president should also follow the custom and appoint me to form a new government.”

Tuesday’s vote was the fifth attempt by the opposition to bring down Mr Topolánek’s government in the two years and two months of its existence. But this time, four former coalition MPs, who now sit as independents, sided with the Social Democrats and the Communists. Deputy Prime Minister and head of the coalition Greens Martin Bursík said their reasons for voting against the government had nothing to do with its agenda.

Martin Bursík,  photo: CTK
“This was not about the contents of our politics. Those people who voted together with the Social Democrats and the Communists against the government, showed that their priorities were personal more than anything else.”

The coalition government of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens had fast been losing ground in Parliament even before the vote of no-confidence. Last week, it decided to pull out of Parliament treaties with the US on hosting an American radar base, for fear the legislation could be shot down. Speaking before Tuesday’s vote, the prime minister even promised to scrap controversial health care reforms – a source of tension even within the coalition itself. But the last straw for the opposition was a recent media scandal involving Mr Topolánek’s close friend, who tried to influence a Czech TV reporter. Social Democrat MP Jan Hamáček said that after this, his party decided to call the vote, even though the country currently holds the presidency of the European Council.

Václav Klaus and Miloslav Vlček  (right),  photo: CTK
“Obviously, it’s a concern for me, but we wouldn’t have done it, if the prime minister and his close allies had acted otherwise. I think what Mr Dalík did was a flagrant violation of all democratic principles. You just can’t push a journalist into dropping a story, and I think that was the key thing that actually tipped the balance and basically forced us to call the vote of no-confidence.”

After the vote, the Czech EU presidency said the fall of the government was not going to have any immediate impact on its role at the helm of the EU. Mr Topolánek admitted that the result could weaken the negotiating powers of the Czechs, but he also said that the administration was so well-prepared it could handle the presidency even without politicians. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg agrees that the fall of the cabinet should not affect the Czech EU presidency.

“That does not mean a lot because we have to work anyway as a government until the summer. So for the presidency, it doesn’t make a difference.”

Mr Topolánek will formally tender his resignation to the president on Thursday. What happens next is for Václav Klaus to decide.