Party rebel forces prime minister's hand

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

The leadership of the governing Civic Democratic Party on Tuesday bowed to pressure from the newly emerged faction surrounding party rebel Vlastimil Tlusty. Party leader and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced that the party would try to revise the planned tax reform in line with Mr Tlusty's proposal. The prime minister has thus given his loudest critic a chance to call the shots, which could either make him or break him.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Only several weeks ago former finance minister Vlastimil Tlusty was an isolated figure in the Civic Democratic Party - a rebel who was expected to come to heel when it came to the crucial vote on the government's reform package. But Mr. Tlusty has proved a tough opponent. In a matter of days he'd lined up over a dozen party MPs behind him and threatened to boycott the reforms and bring down the government if his proposals for fiscal reform were not incorporated in the government's reform package. The said proposal envisages decreasing corporate tax from 24 percent to 19 percent and slashing income tax either down to 19 percent or 12 percent which would be calculated from a "super gross wage". This, Mr Tlusty said, was in line with the Civic Democratic Party's election promises and anything less would amount to a betrayal. Only last week the prime minister scoffed at the idea.

"Given the present political circumstances, the idea that the Civic Democrats are in a position to push through their own radical reform plans is ridiculous," Mr. Topolanek said. But on Tuesday he was singling a different tune - and he put Vlastimil Tlusty on a team of negotiators who are expected to do just that.

The party's coalition partners - the Christian Democrats and the Greens - have expressed surprise at the unexpected U-turn and are clearly reserved about the possibility of reaching agreement on a major tax overhaul at this late hour.

Jan Klas and Vlastimil Tlusty, photo: CTK
However they seem to understand that the prime minister does not really have a choice but to let his chief rival persuade them to accept a more right-wing reform program. If he does not - the government would fall, since the prime minister has linked its future to the proposed reforms. The question is whether that is not part of the high-stakes game that Vlastimil Tlusty is now playing. Political commentator Jiri Pehe says the prime minister is fighting for his political future.

"I think that the prime minister is really under threat. He knows that on this particular point Mr. Tlusty is not joking. He is prepared to veto the reform package and I would argue that this is not because of the economic substance of the package but because Mr. Tlusty, previously a very important figure in the Civic Democratic Party, has been sidelined by Mr. Topolanek and he is basically playing for his political life - trying to revive his chances of once again becoming one of the top figures in the party. On the other hand, Mr. Topolanek is also playing for his political future because he knows very well that if the reform package were to be rejected and the government were to fall he would probably not be asked by the president to form yet another government and so his political future would be seriously threatened."