What next for Czech Republic in wake of Spidla resignation?

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Prezident Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla formally tendered his resignation this week, as talks began to form a new government. Mr Spidla announced he was resigning last weekend, after being forced to step down as leader of the ruling Social Democrats, which have seen their support plummet in the polls. All this happened as the Czech football team rose to ever greater heights at Euro 2004. So why was the government unable to capitalise on the "football feelgood factor"? A question Rob Cameron put to analyst Jiri Pehe.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Prezident Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"I think the government has been in trouble for such a long time that basically it was impossible to capitalise on anything. It had to come to a head, and it so happened that it occurred during the very good performance of the Czech football team at Euro 2004."

The European Parliament elections were disastrous for a number of governments around Europe, but the Czech government is the only one to have fallen - directly or indirectly - as a result. Why?

"I think the European elections didn't have much to do with the fall of the government. It was just a trigger, it was an event that helped the opponents of Vladimir Spidla to upset him. But I think the results of the European elections really didn't directly influence Mr Spidla's downfall. He would have fallen without the European elections, maybe a bit later, but he would have fallen anyway."

Do you think the government was genuinely unpopular, or was Mr Spidla's downfall more to do with internal disputes inside the ruling Social Democrats?

"I think there were two reasons for the unpopularity of the government. One was the fact that Mr Spidla, despite his Social Democratic programme, decided to go for reform of public finances, and those reforms were somewhat half-baked. They could not satisfy right-of-centre voters, and they could not satisfy leftist voters. For conservatives and liberals, the reforms were too mild; for leftist voters they were asocial. Another reason is Mr Spidla's lack of communication skills. He's a very decent man, and certainly a very able politician, but he has not been able to communicate his ideas to the public."

Stanislav Gross and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
So the big question - what happens now?

"Mr Spidla is gone, and he will most likely be replaced by his successor in the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross. Of course all the cards right now are in the hands of President Vaclav Klaus. Under the Czech Constitution, the president can basically appoint anybody he wants as the next prime minister. But then of course the prime minister has to go to parliament and seek a vote of confidence. I think that Klaus will appoint Mr Gross and he will try at first to form a coalition government with majority support, perhaps leaving out the Freedom Union and keeping the Christian Democrats. But my opinion is that he will not succeed, and that in the end he will either form a minority government of the Social Democratic party that will have to rely on the support of the Communist Party, or if this is not acceptable to the Social Democrats, then this country will go for early elections."

What effect will this have on attempts to reform the country's public finances, which was why this government was formed in the first place?

"Mr Spidla has been frequently criticised for not doing enough in his attempts to reform public finances. In fact he has done some useful things and has taken some useful steps. Now, with his downfall, we can be certain there will be no reform of public finances."