Mr Gross goes right - and left - in search of a single vote

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

Although Stanislav Gross has said he would prefer to form a government made up of the current coalition partners - his centre-left Social Democratic Party, plus the right-of-centre Freedom Union and Christian Democrats — he is at best one vote short of a majority in the 200-seat chamber of deputies and so will need to reach out to the opposition. So will he go left or right?

Stanislav Gross,  photo: CTK
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, the party leader of the centre-left Social Democrats since the resignation of outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, is in the midst of official negotiations to form the next government.

So what of the Communists?

Mr Gross has pledged not to form a cabinet dependent on their support — and President Vaclav Klaus has said he would not endorse any government that involved the Communists. But Mr Gross will on Thursday meet the party's leader, Miroslav Grebenicek, who implied earlier this week that his party might be satisfied with getting the position of speaker of the lower house for itself, though he later said he was "only teasing."

Political analyst Vaclav Zak says it is next to impossible that Mr Gross actually will offer the Communists any real power.

"In his own party there is strong opposition to negotiating with the Communist party — I would say that maybe one-third of the club of Social Democratic MPs are against cooperation with the Communists. So I think he will maybe negotiate some changes in government policy, in the government's programme of financial reform, or something like that, but not much more."

Stanislav Gross  (at the back) and Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
But there is a lot of behind-closed-doors manoeuvring under way and Mr Gross won't have a much easier time placating the right. He offered the main centre-right Civic Democrats the vacant post of president of the Supreme Audit Office in exchange for support of his cabinet, but his offer was rejected.

The Civic Democrats, the most popular political party at the moment, are said to be pushing for the naming of a technocratic, or caretaker government, and early elections. Recent polls show that the Czech public would prefer this scenario over having yet another fragile coalition or minority government in power.

Political analyst Jiri Pehe notes that thus far, regardless of their strength in the parliament, the Communists have been excluded from power by the so-called "democratic" parties. However, he says, unless the Czech electoral system is changed, the largely unreconstructed Communists will continue to wield power behind the scenes and seek to extract "favours."

"What really is a problem is the fact that the Czech Republic has an unreformed Communist party which, because of its electoral system, the country has to deal with as a serious political force."

"What I mean is that every country, basically, in Europe has some extremist political grouping, but in some countries they have been able to deal with that problem, for example, by adopting a new electoral system. In France, Mr Le Pen and his extremist party have 18 percent of support; that is exactly the same as the Czech communists [...] but no deputy representing Mr Le Pen sits in the French parliament."

If Mr Gross does manage to cobble together a new government — but it fails to win the backing of parliament — President Klaus is thought to be favouring then asking the leader of the Civic Democrats, Miroslav Topolanek, to have a go at forming a government.

It may well come to that. For his part, Mr Topolanek has said that if Mr Gross's coalition "gets a single vote" from his party — or from the Communists — then you could be sure some degree of "corruption" was involved.