Talks on new government take an unexpected turn

Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek and Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

Thursday brought an unexpected twist in the complicated negotiations on forming a new government. In an attempt to gain the upper hand in a long-running tussle with the right since June's inconclusive general elections, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek pulled the plug on talks with the Civic Democrats and turned to the Christian Democrats as a potential coalition partner.

Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek and Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
More surprisingly still, the Christian Democrats -known for their anti-communist rhetoric - jumped at the chance of being in government, even if it meant leaning on the Communists for support. This unexpected U-turn has left the prime minister designate and his Civic Democrats very much on the defensive. So -almost three months after the elections the Czech Republic has two prime ministers - who are now both trying to form a government. Daniela Lazarova has been following developments and joins me now in the studio. Daniela - just 48 hours ago it seemed that the Civic and Social Democrats were close to reaching agreement on a minority Social Democrat government - now everything's changed. What happened?

Well - it depends on who you are listening to - according to the outgoing prime minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek it was due to insurmountable differences over the future government's policy programme. On the other hand the prime minister designate, Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek, claims that the Social Democrats were hungry for power and made outrageous demands on his party both with respect to posts they wanted and the future government's policy programme.

So Mr. Paroubek has turned to the Christian Democrats instead...

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
That's right. The speed with which he did so and with which the two leaders reached agreement suggests that this was prepared in advance. In any case the Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek himself made an abrupt U-turn in saying that his party would enter into a coalition with the Social Democrats even if it meant leaning on the communists for support.

Just a few weeks ago he was telling voters this was something his party would never do. So he was in a tight spot on Thursday -and he said he'd made the decision under extreme circumstances - that he was fighting for the party's very existence because he feared that if the Civic and Social Democrats joined forces they would amend the election law in a way that would threaten the existence of smaller parties. Basically Mr Paroubek has played a very clever power game - a cat and mouse game - with the two smaller parties -the Greens and the Christian Democrats. He first prevented them from forming a coalition with the centre right Civic Democrats - and then threatened their very existence by negotiation a change of the election law with the Civic Democrats. So he has them cornered - although the Greens are refusing to play ball and have said they would never support a government tolerated by the Communists.

But such a government could win a vote of confidence without them, right?

That's right, which is why the Civic Democrats have now attempted to rally forces and have said that they will try to form a caretaker government which would lead to early elections - adding that they too would not spurn support from the communists. This is rather paradoxical because they say they are forming this government in an effort to prevent the communists from returning to power. But under the circumstances they need all the support they can get. And I think the three months of talks have shown that although he lost the elections the Social Democrat leader has had the upper hand in negotiations all along. He has clearly been pulling strings and working on various scenarios, while the Civic Democrats have been more passive - always several steps behind -and they seem to respond to crises and developments rather than taking the initiative and making things happen.

Mirek Topolanek and his Civic Democrats,  photo: CTK
So where does that leave the prime minister designate - Civic Democratic Party leader Mirek Topolanek? A question for political analyst Petr Just:

"Well, first of all the only prime minister who has been entrusted with the task of forming a government is Mr. Topolanek. So Mr. Paroubek is actually acting unconstitutionally or outside of the borders laid down by the Constitution. As concerns Mr. Topolanek, his chances are decreasing with every passing day. He actually has two alternatives open to him: the first is to form a government and ask parliament for a vote of confidence without pre-negotiated support. That is what I think he should do. It's a risk of course but I think that he has nothing more to lose. The second road open to him is to give up on his attempts to form a government. But, as I said - I think he should at least give it a try."