New government finally appointed, but how long will it last?

Mirek Topolanek and his government, photo: CTK

A new government was finally appointed on Monday, three months and a day after inconclusive parliamentary elections left the country in stalemate. Mirek Topolanek's right-wing ministers have big ideas - including a flat tax and slashing bureaucracy - but apparently no support in parliament, and could be tendering their resignations by the end of the month. So why are they bothering?

Mirek Topolanek and Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
There was an upbeat mood at Prague Castle on Monday as Mirek Topolanek and his cabinet of fifteen ministers - nine from his Civic Democrat party and six independents - were officially sworn in by President Vaclav Klaus. Mr Klaus had this to say at the ceremony:

"Our country needs a fully functioning government, and I would like this to be that government."

The mood of optimism was echoed by the new prime minister Mirek Topolanek:

"There's a lot of speculation about whether the government will win a vote of confidence or not. I want this government to deserve such trust, and I want this government to be a trustworthy one."

Fine words, but do they mean anything? Under the Czech constitution, Mr Topolanek must now win a vote of confidence within 30 days or tender his resignation. His party controls just 81 of the 200 seats in parliament, and even if his erstwhile allies in the Christian Democrats and the Greens vote with him, that's not enough. Political analyst Jiri Pehe:

"I think the most likely scenario is that Mr Topolanek's cabinet will not pass a vote of confidence in the parliament, and it will then be asked by the president to function as a caretaker government for a period of time, and then the president basically has an unlimited amount of time to appoint a new prime minister."

Mirek Topolanek and his government,  photo: CTK
But not all observers are convinced Mr Topolanek's government is doomed to fall at the first hurdle. His stated aim is to take the country to early elections, ideally in the spring of 2007. Commentator Petr Just says that if he can also persuade the Communists that this also in their interests, his government could be allowed to survive until then:

"The key is now the Communist Party. They are the party that will decide whether Mr Topolanek's government will or will not receive a vote of confidence. As we know, the Social Democrats are definitely against this government and also against Mr Topolanek's proposal for early elections. It's quite hard to predict anything now, because the Communists are split on this issue, and it will all depend on their final decision."

However even if the Communists decide to keep the government afloat, one thing is for sure. Mirek Topolanek and his Civic Democrats are committed - on paper at least - to introducing sweeping public finance reforms, including a flat rate of tax. But with such limited political support, the chances of any of those reforms ever making it off the ground are slim. The Czech Republic may one day be overhauled by a radical right-wing government, but almost certainly not this one.