Social Democrat leader gets go-ahead to try and form next government

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK

President Miloš Zeman on Thursday officially asked Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka to start talks on forming a new government. The move, which comes almost a month after the country’s general elections, is expected to speed up talks between the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats on forming a three-party coalition.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
Bohuslav Sobotka on Thursday came a step closer to becoming the country’s next prime minister. The Social Democrat leader, who successfully resisted an attempt to oust him from office in the wake of his party’s lackluster victory in October’s general elections, has not been named prime minister designate, but he has been officially tasked with forming the country’s next government.

“I was entrusted with the task of leading political negotiations on forming a government with majority support in the lower house. The president will naturally want assurances that such a government would be able to win a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies.”

Although no deadline was set, the Social Democrat leader said there was a realistic option of reaching a coalition agreement and submitting a proposal to the president by the end of the year.

ANO leader Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Talks with the Social Democrat’s potential coalition partners ANO and the Christian Democrats are expected to start in earnest next week, but preliminary negotiations with the two parties have already indicated that reaching a deal may not be easy. While the parties agree on the need to jump-start economic growth and create job opportunities in the wake of the country’s longest-ever recession, they differ on how to finance state spending.

ANO is refusing to support the Social Democrats’ plans to introduce progressive taxation, pushing instead for a two-year tax-freeze. The Christian Democrats, on the other hand, oppose the Social Democrats efforts to revise the law on church restitutions with the aim of alleviating the burden on the state budget. And it looks like the Social Democrats may have to consider sacrificing other programme priorities as well. ANO have thrown a damper on their plans to establish a nation-wide network of stores selling domestic produce calling it a utopia, while the Christian Democrats have point blank refused to support the idea of scrapping medical and hospital fees.

Christian Democrats leader Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: CTK
The issue of dividing posts in government and the Chamber of Deputies looks set to be equally thorny. The Social Democrats have made it clear they want to hold the posts of PM, finance minister and interior minister, but ANO has now countered that unless it gets the finance ministry portfolio there will be no deal on a coalition government.

While all three parties still maintain they will do their utmost to reach an agreement, it is obvious that the three potential allies are entering a period of tough negotiating on policy priorities and posts. Predicting a stormy ride, Bohuslav Sobotka has warned that while his party is willing to compromise it will not enter into government at any cost.