The embattled Czech Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, will face a
parliamentary vote of no-confidence on Friday. The announcement comes as
the leadership of the Christian Democratic Party, a junior partner in Mr
Gross' ruling coalition, said on Wednesday it would leave the government
if he continues as premier; party leader Miroslav Kalousek said all
Christian Democrat ministers (foreign affairs, transport, environment)
will resign on Thursday.
Separately, the head of the opposition Communist Party, Miroslav Grebenicek, who earlier this week had said he would urge his colleagues to support the no-confidence motion, said after a two-hour meeting on Wednesday with Mr Gross that his deputies might not vote against him after all. Mr Grebenicek said that the policies of the centre-right Civic Democrats, the main opposition party, which had called for the vote, were more of a concern to the Communists than were the past mistakes of the current government.
The no-confidence vote stems from calls for Prime Minister Gross to step down over alleged discrepancies in his personal finances, including his purchase of a luxury apartment in Prague six years ago, as well as his wife Sarka Grossova's business activities.
A reactor at the Temelin nuclear power station in the southern part of the Czech Republic was shut down on Wednesday due to a fault in a power turbine, and is expected to remain offline for about two weeks. A reactor was last shut down at the plant, which lies about 50 kilometres from the Austrian border, on Sunday evening, and was restarted on Monday morning. Czech officials said the most recent fault at Temelin was not located in a part of the plant close to nuclear fuel and said that the second reactor at Temelin was functioning normally.
In related news, the Cabinet is expected to decide on how to continue with the privatisation of Cesky Telecom — that is by tender or through a flotation of shares — following the results of the no-confidence vote in prime minister Stanislav Gross on Friday. The government's privatisation commission was meeting on Wednesday to discuss bids, which include telecommunication companies Swisscom, Belgacom, Spain's Telefonica and a grouping of Blackstone, CVC, Provident partnered with France Telecom. Media reports suggest binding bids went as high as 73 billion crowns (over $3 billion).
In other news, the lower house of Parliament has passed an amendment to the law on road transport, introducing stricter conditions on taxi drivers, including an officially sealed taximeter that issues printed receipts, and an internal memory chip storing the previous month's fare data. The amendment was drafted by the Prague City Hall, which is attempting to crack down on the overcharging of passengers, in particular tourists.
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.
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 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.
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.
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