President favours interim government, parties want snap elections

President Miloš Zeman, photo: ČTK

In an exclusive interview for Czech Radio on Sunday President Milos Zeman unveiled his position with regard to the ongoing political crisis. Following separate talks with the leaders of all parliamentary parties, the president indicated that he would not allow the centre-right coalition to continue in office and would take steps to appoint an interim government to run the country until scheduled or early elections.

President Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK
Although President Zeman was not expected to announce his decision until Tuesday, Sunday’s interview for Czech Radio dashed any hopes the centre-right parties may have had of continuing in office under a different prime minister. President Zeman made it clear he would be making a political decision, based on his own strong mandate.

“My decision will be one that will not disappoint my own voters. We are talking about three million people which is more than any parliamentary party received in the last general elections."

The president enumerated four possible scenarios as a way out of this crisis, two of which he immediately ruled out. They are: snap elections, the continuation of the centre-right coalition, which he is not prepared to accept, appointing the leader of the Social Democrats, who won the last general elections, prime minister designate which the Social Democrats have refused outright, and finally an interim government put together by one of four candidates whom President Zeman is now considering. Mr. Zeman made it clear that he considers an interim cabinet the best possible solution, not only because it would be made up of experts, but because it would save the cost of snap elections, and he intends to push it through even for a brief period of just two months which is the minimum time needed for Parliament to dissolve itself and for the president to call early elections.

Jiří Pospíšil,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The president’s solution to the crisis, would greatly bolster his own influence on political decision- making, and is not altogether unexpected. It pleases neither the right nor left-wing parties who have now indicated readiness to push for early elections. Civic Democratic Party deputy chair Jiri Pospisil had this to say.

“If the president should move to appoint a caretaker government, then that government will not get support from the Civic Democratic Party. We would open talks with all parliamentary parties on how to resolve the situation and I personally would be in favour of early elections.”

Cobbling together the 120 votes needed to dissolve Parliament should not under such circumstances prove too difficult. The opposition Social Democrats have also said they would support early elections. Party deputy chair Lubomir Zaoralek explained why his party had rejected the offer to try to form a government now.

Jeroným Tejc,  Lubomír Zaorálek,  Bohuslav Sobotka. Photo: CTK
“The Social Democratic Party has 54 deputies in the lower house. There is no point in pretending that with that number of MPs we could possibly push through our policy priorities. It would be a betrayal of our voters to accept such an offer under the circumstances.”

Taking all that into account, the way forward now seems fairly predictable. President Zeman will, with all likelihood, appoint a prime minister designate from one of the four candidates he has in mind and then formally appoint an interim cabinet until such a time as early elections can be held presumably at the end of September or beginning of October. Although by rights such a cabinet should ask for a vote of confidence in the lower house, in reality it could govern the country until early elections even if it does not win majority support. While some lawyers are questioning whether this would not be in violation of the Constitution, politicians are already making plans for early elections. In this at least the president has managed to fulfill his election promise to “unite rather than divide”.