The chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek has said that the state-controlled landline operator Cesky Telecom should be privatised through stock-market floatation. According to Mr Topolanek the opposition has no influence on the methods of privatisation of Cesky Telecom. Prime Minister Gross said at the weekend that the government should decide on the sale of Cesky Telecom as soon as possible. All four remaining bidders, the telecommunication companies Swisscom, Belgacom, Telefonica of Spain, and the financial consortium Blackstone/CVC/Provident, which has partnered with France Telecom, submitted their binding bids on Tuesday.
The opposition right wing Civic Democratic Party has initiated a vote of no-confidence in the coalition government. The vote will take place on Friday, April 1st. The move comes in the wake of a drawn out government crisis over Prime Minister Stanislav Gross's private finances. Mr. Gross has been under pressure to resign from office and his re-election to the post of party leader this weekend broadened the rift within the governing coalition. The opposition Civic Democrats, who have been pushing for early elections, would need 101 votes to bring down the coalition government. The communists, whose votes are expected to tip the scales one way or another if the Christian Democrats walk out of the coalition government, will meet on Thursday to decide how to vote. Communist Party chairman Miroslav Grebenicek said he would try to convince the party to vote against the government.
President Klaus on Tuesday met with Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to discuss the government crisis. The President's spokesman said the meeting took place at the Prime Minister's request. No details have been released to the press and the President has said he will not comment on the situation at present.
The Christian Democrats, who are no longer willing to accept Mr. Gross as head of Cabinet, are to decide at their party conference on Wednesday whether the party should leave the government. Their departure would leave the Prime Minister with a minority government. The third party in the Gross government, the Freedom Union, said on Tuesday it would support the government in return for a promise that the Cabinet would propose a proper conflict of interests bill by June 1st. However its deputies say they would re-think their decision if the Gross government had to rely on communist support. The Prime Minister's problems began when he failed to explain how he had paid for his luxury flat in Prague six years ago and when it came to light that his wife had a business partnership with a woman being investigated for alleged fraud.
Prime Minister Gross has said that if the Social Democrats fail to have the government-proposed general referendum bill approved in parliament, they will draft a special law on a one-off referendum on the European Constitution. This means that the Social Democrats will not take into account a referendum bill by proposed the opposition Civic Democrats, which was approved by the Senate last week.
The Christian Democrat deputy chairman Jan Kasal has said that following the Social Democrats' national congress at the weekend the Christian Democrats will probably have to convene their national conference which will decide on whether the party will leave the cabinet. Mr Kasal said that was very probable in view of the resolution which bans the Social Democrats from agreeing to early elections and since the Social Democrats have made it clear that Stanislav Gross will keep the post of Prime Minister. Mr Gross said in a televised debate on Monday that he did not intend to resign and did not plan to ask the lower house for confidence.
The chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek has said that the state-controlled landline operator Cesky Telecom should be privatised through stock-market floatation. According to Mr Topolanek the opposition has no influence on the methods of privatisation of Cesky Telecom. Prime Minister Gross said at the weekend that the government should decide on the sale of Cesky Telecom as soon as possible. Tuesday is the closing date for binding bids. Still taking part are the telecommunication companies Swisscom, Belgacom, and Telefonica of Spain, along with the financial consortium Blackstone/CVC/Provident, which has partnered with France Telecom.
The leaders of the coalition parties are expected to resume talks on the government crisis on Tuesday at their regular meeting. It will be their first meeting since Stanislav Gross was elected Social Democrat chairman. Question marks are hanging over the future of the ruling coalition as the Christian Democrats have said repeatedly they may not stay in the coalition because of the controversies over the Prime Minister's private finances.
On Saturday the Social Democrats also elected a new inner party leadership: among those elected to deputy chairman posts were strong Gross supporters, the Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and the Minister for Regional Development Jiri Pardoubek. Mr Gross' rival for the party leadership, Zdenek Skromach, also contended for a post but came up dry, and is said to now be considering leaving the government altogether. Mr Skromach is the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. Other changes in ministerial posts may also be ahead: there are indications that if Mr Skromach leaves, Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas will also give up his post.
But, Mr Gross' re-election as chairman of the Social Democratic Party
has left the future of the governing coalition in doubt: coalition
partners, the Christian Democrats, had called for the prime minister's
resignation over the last month, saying they would pull out of the
government unless the prime minister accepted responsibility for a
recent property scandal.
There has been no final decision by the Christian Democrats yet, however they have made it clear when talks between the two political parties reconvene they will push for either Mr Gross to step down, or for early elections, as a condition for holding the coalition together. Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek has said the two sides should meet within a matter of days. The prime minister, meanwhile, indicated the ball is now very much in the Christian Democrats' court; he would prefer the government to continue in its present form until national elections in 2006.
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