Government survives no-confidence vote

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right government survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday. The motion from the opposition Social Democrats won only 98 votes out of the overall 199 deputies present in the 200-member lower house. The three party coalition, which has been dogged by corruption scandals and weakened by internal strife once again showed that at times of crises it stands united.

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTKMirek Topolánek, photo: CTK It was the opposition’s third attempt to topple the coalition government and despite its fragile majority in the lower house it was fairly clear from the start that the opposition’s chances of success were slim, largely thanks to three independents – former Social Democrat rebels who were expected to support the government. In the end only two of them did, but it was enough. The opposition fell three votes short of achieving its goal and, having done his mathematics, the prime minister looked supremely confident as he listened to criticism from the opposition benches. In fact he even made a point of leafing through the morning papers during the vote itself to show just how unconcerned he was.

So the question that comes to mind is – if the opposition hadn’t secured enough support what was the point of calling a no-confidence vote that was doomed to fail? In part the answer lies in the government’s fragile majority in Parliament which the opposition keeps testing. There is speculation that the opposition was counting on the current friction within the government over the bill on church restitutions – and the internal strife within the two smaller coalition parties - the Christian Democrats and the Greens. But it was fairly obvious that, whatever their problems, none of the three governing parties would “sink their own boat”, particularly in a public vote. So it is far more probable that the opposition leader was simply seeking to attract more publicity, calling attention to the government’s alleged “failures and gaffes” in a very public manner.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK But, at the end of the day, he actually did the prime minister a favour. Thwarted by three of his own MPs during a Parliament debate on church restitutions on Tuesday, Mr. Topolánek was smarting from his unexpected defeat. Tuesday’s show of coalition unity in the lower house could not have come at a better time for him.

As for the opposition leader, Jiři Paroubek, he has not come out of it in the best possible light. Commentators have made a point of noting that not so long ago he made a big deal out of offering the governing coalition a “cease-fire” or non-aggression pact in view of the Czech Republic’s upcoming EU presidency in 2009. And it has not escaped their attention that –if opinion polls are to be believed – the ruling Civic Democrats, whose popularity slid as they introduced painful reforms, is once again on the rise.