Social Democrats give Gross green light to continue coalition talks

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

It seems ever more likely that the new government will be formed by the same coalition parties as the outgoing one. Over the weekend the top executive body of the Social Democrats approved the steps the party's acting head, Stanislav Gross, has been taking in trying to put together a new cabinet, following the resignation of former Prime Minister and party head Vladimir Spidla. Although Mr Gross's negotiations with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union were approved by an overwhelming majority of the party's executive committee, a few dissenting voices within the party made themselves heard at the weekend.

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
Any details on personnel changes - if there are any at this stage - still remain a secret. The only thing we know is that Stanislav Gross refused to surrender the post of finance minister to the chairman of the Christian Democrats, Miroslav Kalousek, saying quite bluntly that Mr Kalousek did not have such a "value" for the Social Democrats and that the key ministry should stay in the hands of the Social Democrats. But he said he did not object to Mr Kalousek's participation in the new government.

Although no one actually voted against the continuation of the coalition at Sunday's meeting, a few people said a minority Social Democrat government would give the Social Democrats a better chance to push through their policies as defined by their 2002 election manifesto. For example MP Stanislav Krecek said if the Social Democrats were to have their hands tied by their coalition partners for another two years, the best option would be an early general election.

Another advocate of a minority Social Democrat government is the party's former head and ex-prime minister Milos Zeman who spoke in favour of the idea even after the 2002 election. Although Milos Zeman retired from politics two years ago and lives at his country cottage in the east of the country, he still remains an influential figure, if only for the amount of media coverage he is getting. On Friday he met two top representatives of the opposition Communist Party: its leader Miroslav Grebenicek and the head of the Communist parliamentary party, Pavel Kovacik. Mr Gross said earlier that it would be unacceptable for the new government to depend on communist support, so there has been a lot of speculation as to why Mr Zeman was meeting communist leaders.