Government toppled in confidence vote

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

The minority Civic Democrat government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, triggering the fall of his cabinet and edging the country closer to early elections. The seemingly endless political saga thus drags on: four months after inconclusive general elections the Czech Republic still lacks a real government.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
The fall of the Topolanek cabinet, which has been in office for just 30 days, was practically unavoidable. The June general elections divided the lower house down the middle with the right and left parties taking 100 seats each. So the only possible way out of the stalemate was a deal between the two strongest parties on the right and left - the Civic and Social Democrats - and since they were unable to reach agreement it was fairly clear that there would be no way out of the deadlock.

The drawn out political crisis has already lasted for four months and it seems that the only long-term solution lies in early elections. Unfortunately, Czech law does not make this process easy. There must be three failed attempts at forming a government after which the president could dissolve parliament and new elections could be held within sixty days. Or - alternately, early elections could also arise through constitutional change where a three fifth majority in both the lower house and the Senate would agree to shorten the term of the lower house. The latter seems highly unlikely because of the deadlock in the lower house. The former prime minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek does not want early elections he wants a turn at forming a new government so the chances are neither his party nor the Communists would make the way to early elections easy.

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
Consequently it is now up to the president to entrust someone else with the task of forming a new government and President Klaus has already made it clear this will not happen before the end of October after the country's senate and local elections. He is free to pick whoever he believes has the best chance of forming a new government. It could be Mirek Topolanek once again, or someone else from the Civic Democratic Party. The Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek is hoping to be given a chance but the president could also chose a non-political figure to form a caretaker administration. His spokesman recently indicated a caretaker administration could be on the cards- but nothing is official and the president -who is on a trip to Asia - is keeping his own council.

In the meantime, the country will most likely be governed by the minority Civic Democrat government. Although Prime Minister Topolanek has said he will resign next Wednesday, the president will almost certainly ask him to remain in office until a new cabinet can be appointed.

Probably the only good thing about the whole affair is that so far the economy is strong and has suffered few ill-effects. However economists warn that this may not last indefinitely.