More than two months after general elections, the Czech Republic is preparing for a change of guard. The election of a new lower house leadership at the start of the week and the resignation of the Social Democrat government on Wednesday has finally cleared the way for a new administration. However its future is far from certain and the possibility of early elections is still very much on the cards.
It took the winner of the June general elections Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek ten weeks to get a shot at forming a new government. The even split of forces between the left and right parties in the lower house has left him at the mercy of his main rival - the outgoing prime minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek. Smarting from his election defeat, Mr. Paroubek thrashed as much political capital as he could from the deadlock, tuning his defeat into an impasse and severely restricting his rival's maneuvering space.
After weeks of negotiations, Mr. Topolanek had to give up on the idea of a centre right coalition and he accepted the inevitable - one on one talks with his rival which would produce a tolerance agreement on a minority Civic Democrat government that would include both politicians and experts. Even now Mr. Paroubek insists on calling the shots - first he asked to approve the entire government line up - not just the unaffiliated experts, as earlier agreed. Then he announced that he would only tolerate a Civic Democrat government with a limited mandate of two years. "Two years is half a term, which seems reasonable given that the election result is basically a draw," Mr. Paroubek told journalists on Tuesday.
The Civic Democrat leader is still pushing for a full four year term in office and is determined to defend the mainstay of his party's policy programme, but he admitted to journalists that it would be an uphill climb. His position is far from easy - some senior members in his party are disgruntled over the fact that their nomination to ministerial posts is to be approved by the Social Democrats. "They want to tie our hands so that we cannot deliver on our promises and then in two years time they want to effect a come-back" a senior Civic Democrat official said.
It is not the best start for the Civic Democrats -who have waited 8 long years to come back to power. On Wednesday Mirek Topolanek said he would negotiate with all parties but the communists and that his attempt to form a government should not take longer than two to three weeks. Anything beyond that would be untenable for the country, Mr. Topolanek said. Meanwhile, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek is waiting in the wings, hungry for power and eager to be entrusted with the task of forming a new cabinet should his rival fail.
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