Government crisis: is there a way out of the deadlock?

21-02-2005

The heated row over the Czech Prime Minister's personal finances took a dramatic twist over the weekend. Just as it looked as though Mr Gross's Social Democrats had made peace with their smaller coalition partners, the Christian Democrat leadership emerged on Saturday morning with a shock demand: either Mr Gross should stand down as prime minister or dissolve the government altogether. They said that questions over how he had paid for his new apartment five years ago had led to a collapse of confidence even within his own coalition. So is this the death knell for the government and the end of the line for Europe's youngest prime minister? David Vaughan is following the story. David, what do you think?

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKPrime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK "Czech politics is notoriously fickle so that's a tough one to answer. Mr Gross was incandescent with rage when he received the Christian Democrats' ultimatum, and he certainly wasn't in a mood to resign. He said that if the Christian Democrats weren't happy with the government, they were free to leave it, but had no right to dictate to him whether he should stay in the top job. And he made it clear that if they did leave he would be quite happy to carry on ruling with a minority government - alongside the smallest of the coalition parties, the Freedom Union, which has kept fairly quiet during the row."

And could you just remind us what the row is about?

"I won't go into details, because we've discussed them elsewhere, but the core of the row is whether or not Mr Gross acted unethically in the complex way he secured a loan for his apartment. There are similar, separate allegations being thrown at his wife Sarka."

So what happens now?

"It's hard to say, but I think that given how close both Mr Gross and the Christian Democrats have gone to the brink, it's going to be very hard for them to go back now, and I can't really imagine the government surviving in its current form. Gross will probably try to put together a minority government, but that would have to be with the tacit support of the Communists - which won't go down well with many voters, and also with many in his party. The Communists have made overtures to Mr Gross, pointing out that the main beneficiary of a total collapse of the government would be the right-wing opposition Civic Democrats. But Mr Gross would also face another hurdle. The President, Vaclav Klaus, has said he is not willing to give his support to a minority government that he doesn't consider feasible and sustainable.

President Vaclav Klaus et Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKPresident Vaclav Klaus et Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK "Now I should stress that the Christian Democrats say they don't want to bring down the government, and that it's only the prime minister's head that they want to see fall, but given Mr Gross's tough defence of his position so far, I don't think he is going to back down, so the coalition is probably doomed."

Does that mean an early election?

"At this stage probably not. Given the abysmal showing of the Social Democrats in recent opinion polls, Mr Gross will be strongly motivated to keep the Social Democrats in power, rather than face the electorate.

"If Mr Gross really does go, we'll have a very interesting situation, because there's not an obvious successor in the party."

The leadership of the three coalition parties is meeting again on Wednesday...

"Yes, so I think we'll just have to wait and see."

21-02-2005