Future of the government coalition hangs on the fate of the Czech PM

25-06-2004

The survival of the Czech governing coalition hangs in the balance. Its future existence depends upon the fate of one man -Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla who appears to be fighting a losing battle as he takes the blame for the party's humiliating defeat in the Euro elections. The power struggle within the governing Social Democrats has reached a head and all will be decided at a crucial meeting of the party's leadership on Saturday. Daniela Lazarova has been following the story and joins me now in the studio. So, Daniela could this be the end of the road for the three party coalition?

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTKVladimir Spidla, photo: CTK "Yes, it might well be. It is certainly the most serious crisis they've ever faced and the thrashing they received in the Euro elections was just the last straw - internal discord and dissatisfaction had been bubbling under the surface for a very long time. Mr Spidla's critics argue that he has been hopeless at getting across the government's successes and selling tough economic reforms - they say he comes across as a dry and detached leader with no charisma. He now has meagre support within his own party - especially in the regions where his support base seems to have collapsed. So right now the PM has just one ace left to play. He is linking his fate with that of the entire Cabinet -saying if he doesn't get support as party leader he'll bring the whole government down with him."

Would that mean early elections or can the Social Democrats hope to replace Spidla and remain in office?

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKStanislav Gross, photo: CTK "Well, that's the problem you see. It would be a very difficult thing to do simply because there aren't many feasible alternatives. There's been talk of Mr. Spidla being replaced by the deputy prime minister Stanislav Gross, and it appears that the President may already have consented to such a plan, but even if that were true Stanislav Gross would be in a very difficult position : for a viable cabinet he'd have to rely on conditional support from the largely unreconstructed Communists or from the right-wing Civic Democrats - who would both want to take advantage of such a situation. And support from the Civic Democrats - which is the more politically acceptable of the two alternatives - would not last long anyway since the Civic Democrats are raring to go - aware that they would gain a landslide victory in early elections. Mr. Spidla knows all this and he's pinning his hopes on it, I think."

So there's still a chance that he could come out of this?

"Well, there is a small chance, but even if he does he will come out of it badly battered : the governing party would still be divided by discord, he would be seen as the lesser of two evils and he'd have very little public support - surveys have indicated that two thirds of Czechs think he should go. So he's in a no win situation really. And everything's playing into the hands of the strongest opposition party - the Civic Democrats.

 

Civic Democrats will tolerate only "provisional solutions" if the government falls

Meanwhile, a poll released this Friday has shown the party gaining an historic forty-percent in voter preference. Earlier Jan Velinger spoke to the Civic Democrats' deputy leader Jan Zahradil to get a sense of the right-of centre party's next move. Mr Zahradil presented an uncompromising stance.

"Crucial will be what is going to happen with the Social Democratic Party as part of the government coalition, whether they will stick with Mr Spidla, or whether they will vote him out of office. Then of course it comes to the president, who has to appoint a new prime minister. Nevertheless, my party prefers to solve the whole situation with early elections; we are not ready to participate on any solution or any new coalition government after Mr Spidla's resignation. We are only ready to 'tolerate' a provisional solution that should end with early elections."

How do you feel about the possibility that the Social Democrats could lean towards the Communist Party? That would give the Communist Party more influence than it's had since the fall of communism in 1989.

"I think this is off crucial importance to the Social Democrats, what solution they are going to choose. They are still the biggest faction in Parliament, so their responsibility is great and I wonder whether the Social Democrats are willing to space for the Communist Party because I think if they did that it would be disastrous for them because they would probably lose further support from some of their current voters. But, it's their responsibility, I cannot make any comments, I don't want to speculate on Social Democrat strategy. Our offer is very clear: we can offer a certain level of tolerance of a temporary minority government that is ended by early elections. If this condition is not fulfilled we will not support such a solution."

Final question: if the coalition does somehow hold together will the Civic Democrats put forward a motion for a vote of no-confidence?

"If we tomorrow evening or Sunday morning we see the Czech Republic without a government, if Mr Spidla resigns, then of course to come with such a motion would be senseless. If it comes another way then of course we are ready to ask for a new plenary session of the Czech Parliament with that extra agenda, with the vote of no-confidence on the government."

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