Political leaders seek solution to government crisis

Václav Klaus and Mirek Topolánek (right), photo: CTK

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose centre-right cabinet was defeated in a no-confidence vote in the lower house earlier this week, on Thursday formally submitted his resignation to President Václav Klaus. Contrary to expectations, the prime minister was not asked to remain in office until the end of the country’s EU presidency. President Klaus made it clear he would use his constitutional right to appoint whoever he wants as prime minister designate – setting down conditions that are almost impossible to meet.

Václav Klaus and Mirek Topolánek  (right),  photo: CTK
Although the Czech Constitution does not give the Office of the President many real powers, in times of crises such as this he becomes the key figure on the Czech political scene. It is now up to the president to appoint a prime minister designate – and Mr. Klaus has made it clear that he would give the appointment to whoever can provide a guarantee that he has majority support in the lower house – in short 101 votes. The condition shocked both the coalition and the opposition which had also expected the prime minister to carry on until the end of the country’s EU presidency – and had said they were ready to support such a scenario, which should be followed by a caretaker government to lead the country to early elections.

Václav Klaus and Jiří Paroubek  (right),  photo: CTK
However, President Klaus has made it clear he does not see any point in keeping this government in office for the remainder of the EU presidency and has asked for a quick solution to the political crisis – basically leaving the field open to anyone who thinks they could win majority support. Given the balance of power in the lower house this is practically an impossible task. It cannot be achieved without communist votes –unless the two biggest rivals on the scene –the Civic and Social Democrats were to enter into a grand coalition. Neither option seems very likely, but unless politicians can agree on a solution the president will impose his own solution to the crisis and appoint a caretaker government which would not need to pass a confidence vote.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Czech Constitution makes it exceedingly hard to trigger early elections - the two strongest parties would have to agree on a constitutional amendment.

Political analysts predict a protracted political standoff and even the prime minister who put a brave face on the fall of his government in the European Parliament this week is no longer able to say it will not affect the country’s EU presidency or the approval of the Lisbon treaty, for that matter. There is also the economic crisis to consider. The prime minister says he won’t shoulder that burden without a mandate of some sort and the opposition is not eager to take over at present. A state of affairs that has analysts asking why the Social Democrats brought down the government in the first place and whether it was a wise move not just in view of the country’s best interests but their own.