Gross confident of bypassing Communists in forming an old-new government


The Czech Republic could be close to having a new government - one that looks very much like its predecessor. Outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's successor at the helm of the Social Democrats, the youthful Stanislav Gross, seems to have managed to cobble together a tiny majority of support in parliament - for a coalition of the same three partners as in the old team. Mr Gross is now working on the details, and seems confident that his new team will hold out till the next elections in two years' time. David Vaughan has been following the developments.

Miroslav Grebenicek and Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKMiroslav Grebenicek and Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK Do you reckon that Mr Gross really has managed to save the Social Democrats' skin - at least for the time being?

"Well, it certainly seems that way. In between tennis matches in Karlovy Vary yesterday - which he was visiting for the film festival - President Vaclav Klaus said that he would give Mr Gross the go-ahead to put together a government, if Mr Gross managed to convince him that he really did enjoy real majority support. And that does seem to be the case, ever since on Thursday, rebel MP Marian Bielesz, gave up his seat, which now passes on to a government loyalist. But it's certainly going to be a very fragile majority for Mr Gross."

Are there any other cracks in the plan?

"Well, so far, the full support of the second biggest coalition partner, the centrist Christian Democrats isn't rock solid, because some in the party have expressed doubts over the role of the beleaguered Freedom Union in the government, the small right-wing party that holds the balance of power. That party has virtually disintegrated; it remains very unstable, polls suggest that its support base has collapsed entirely, and some Christian Democrats have suggested it doesn't actually deserve a ministry in the new government. But Mr Gross is a master negotiator, and I think he will probably manage to stitch some kind of compromise."

And I gather that Mr Gross won't have to rely on the support of the Communists, as had been feared?

Miroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTKMiroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTK "Yes, it certainly seems that way. Mr Gross was extremely lucky on Thursday, in that the rebel MP Mr Bielesz resigned just before his meeting with the Communist leader, Miroslav Grebenicek. So he was able to go into the meeting knowing that with this fragile majority in his pocket, and without having to beg for Communist support, which would have been very unpopular in his own party, as the Communists are largely unreconstructed, hard-line left-wing party. But with such a fragile majority he certainly won't be able to ignore the Communists altogether, and I expect that a few informal deals were struck with Mr Grebenicek during the two men's meeting - we shouldn't forget that it's not long before debate over next year's state budget begins, and that will be the first big challenge for the new government."

And what about the new government? Will it be a copy of its predecessor?

"First of all it's worth pointing out that we won't see a new government straight away. Mr Gross has made it clear that further talks are needed and that he needs the go-ahead from his own party. I think we can expect things to be ready by the beginning of August. There will certainly be changes, in the government, there'll be ministers moving around or disappearing altogether, but I think the government's policy programme will be almost identical to that of its predecessor, and Mr Gross will certainly want to continue with his predecessor's economic reform package."