Will promise to call vote of confidence buy Gross government time?

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

"At the moment, in the current situation, I do not feel that I am permitted to leave because we have unfinished work, which I will try to complete. I think this is a good reason why the government should continue." Prime Minister Stanislav Gross speaking before parliament on Friday, ahead of a no confidence vote, which his government narrowly survived. But on Friday, it was clear that they would only be able to stay in power in the future with the tacit support of the Communists.

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
So, how did Mr Gross get into this situation? A quick recap of the last two months...

Back in February, a leading Czech newspaper asked Prime Minister Gross to explain how he was able to make a 1.2 million crown (50,000 US dollar) down payment for a Prague flat back in 1999, when it was clear he couldn't have saved that much money from his official salary. The Prime Minister gave a number of contradictory explanations. A few days later, news broke that his wife too was involved in business transactions with a friend who was under investigation for insurance and tax fraud and owned property housing a Prague brothel. That's when the Christian Democrats - one of the governing coalition partners - intervened and called on Mr Gross to resign, claiming the affair over his personal finances was damaging the reputation of the government. But Mr Gross, backed by his Social Democrats, refused to go. That's when the Christian Democrats decided to walk out.

But following the Communists' rescue act on Friday, the Freedom Union - the other coalition partner of Mr Gross' Social Democrats - said it would go too if the entire cabinet did not resign.

Freedom Union Information Technology Minister Vladimir Mlynar could not bear the government's growing dependence on the Communists and decided to resign and leave the government immediately:

"The political situation has changed. I was a member of a government that was based on the support of 101 non-Communist MPs in parliament when I promised to serve this government but the situation has changed dramatically and that is why I have decided to resign immediately."

Information Technology Minister Vladimir Mlynar, photo: CTK
But even the Social Democrats, some who have openly supported the prime minister during his struggle to stay in power, are having trouble with the current situation as party policy has been not to cooperate with the Communists. Education Minister Petra Buzkova:

"I think it is a very unfortunate development. I have expressed my view on this issue many times but I'm afraid I will not be able to tell you more about what I plan to do about it until I have spoken to the prime minister."

Unlike Mrs Buzkova, party colleague Lubomir Zaoralek, who is also the speaker of parliament, does not see any cause for concern:

"It seems to me that it's clear to both the Social Democrats and the Communists that there is no interest to support each other's proposals. I am convinced that the real, left, programme in our country is the Social Democratic programme and not the isolationist, nationalist, and conservative programme of the Communist Party. We have no tendency and willingness to accept their changes. We have to create new methods to move around in the chamber of deputies but I am convinced that we will find a way to communicate in parliament with all other parliamentary parties in order to keep our coalition programme."

So how does the ordinary Czech feel about the government crisis which has been dragging on for two months now?

Woman: "Sometimes I feel it's a joke. They should be ashamed of themselves because what they are doing is really embarrassing. I don't agree with the Communists being in parliament or in the government. They shouldn't be there and it should be illegal. I don't want to watch it anymore because I've stopped caring."

Woman: "I really don't feel good about it because I think it pictures society and it's not very good for the psychology of the people. They will loose faith."

Man: "I'm sort of getting tired of it. It's been going on for a long time. I think that many of the things that happened were prepared...before the crisis began but it's a part of the political process and we'll just have to wait for it to develop."

So, has the government crisis come to an end, or should we brace ourselves for more change on the political scene? Political commentator Vladimira Dvorakova thinks the government's decision to call a confidence vote, was a very clever move to carry through with as much party policy as possible without the Communists getting in the way:

"Well, it's very difficult to explain the situation but the decision of the prime minister to ask for a vote of confidence may be a strategy to postpone the solution of the crisis because, to ask for a vote of confidence does not mean that it will be as early as next week. If they combine the vote of confidence with a vote on some law, they would have to prepare it first and it can take a month or two, depending on the atmosphere and the pressure on the prime minister. But in that time, it would be possible to attend to some outstanding issues, such as the privatisation of Czech Telecom, and some others that are important for the Social Democrats. So, they would be able to finish these tasks of the government."

So do you think that the government would not get a vote of confidence if it were called at present?

"I think that they would either not get it or it would be very difficult because they would have to come to some kind of a compromise with the Communist Party, which is something that a great number of Social Democrats don't want to accept. So, the internal problem of the Social Democrats could become a problem - those who wouldn't like a strong support of the Communists because the Communists will use that to strengthen their position and put a few things on the agenda of the executive."

We could say that the Communists are adopting a very clever strategy to indirectly influence decision-making.

"Yes, I think they are using this strategy to strengthen the position and relevance of their party and those who somehow are responsible for this crisis knew that. Maybe the parties are hoping to strengthen the position of the Communists in order to weaken the position of the Social Democrats. In the long run, it would help the right-wing parties because the Communists are limited in the number of votes they can get. They can probably get some thirty percent but because of the Communist heritage, they cannot become an executive power. So, if the Social Democrats are weakened and the Communists are the only remaining 'left' party, then the right-wing political parties would be able to govern this country without any alternative."