Upcoming Civic Democrat party congress might stall government negotiations

Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09), Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats), Radek John (Public Affairs), left to right, photo: CTK

Three weeks after general elections, three centre-right parties are still holding talks on forming a coalition government. On Friday, the leader of the strongest party, the Civic Democrats, is set to inform President Václav Klaus on the progress made so for, and might even leave those talks as prime minister designate. But the Civic Democrats are holding a crucial congress over the weekend that could change everything.

Czech President Václav Klaus chose to break the mould ten days ago. Previously he had tasked the leader of the party that came first in elections with holding talks on forming the next government. This time he gave that task to the head of the party that came second, the Civic Democrats.

Karel Schwarzenberg  (TOP 09),  Petr Nečas  (Civic Democrats),  Radek John  (Public Affairs),  left to right,  photo: CTK
Negotiators for the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and Public Affairs have since reached agreement on a number of issues. These range from introducing a direct vote for the president and pay cuts imposed on state employees, to an overhaul of the pension system and bringing in tuition fees.

The politicians have not found accord in other areas, including defence and anti-corruption measures. But Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas says that he doesn’t expect any significant snags.

“We are negotiating on all of the designated areas. There will be talks between the leaderships of the parties, as well as our expert teams, and I expect swift movement forward.”

This coming Friday, Mr Nečas will have a chance to inform the president of the progress in the negotiations, hoping Mr Klaus will appoint him prime minister designate.

Jaroslav Plesl
Jaroslav Plesl is a commentator for the daily Hospodářské noviny. He says things may not run so smoothly; another alternative could be a so-called ‘grand coalition’, including the Social Democrats.

“I think there is a 60-percent chance that a centre-right government will be formed some time in the summer. But I cannot exclude complications that will lead to a different solution: like a grand coalition that would include the new political party TOP 09 that got into the lower house.”

In Mr Plesl’s view, the drawback might emerge at a Civic Democrat party congress in Prague next weekend. There Mr Nečas will seek election as the party chairman; he has only been acting chairman since Mirek Topolánek stepped down in May.

One of the reasons behind the latter’s fall was the influence of various party factions and their business interests, something Mr Nečas wants to curb. Jaroslav Plesl says if he succeeds, the way for the new centre-right coalition will be open.

“If the different groups within the Civic Democrats agree on the outcome of the congress even before it starts, then I think we can expect Mr Klaus to appoint Mr Nečas the next prime minister. If not, I think Mr Klaus will postpone the decision.”

What are Mr Klaus’ interests in this, and what do you think we can expect from him?

Václav Klaus
“I think Mr Klaus is in favour of a grand coalition. That has been a great dream of his ever since he lost the 2002 elections. He’s been claiming that a grand coalition or other form of cooperation between the two strongest parties is a natural solution for every election. He’s still pushing for a grand coalition and that is his main goal in these negotiations.”

Either way, events next weekend should throw more light onto the question of what kind of government will Czechs have in the coming years, and when it will ask for confidence in the newly elected lower house.