New government comes closer, but Social Democrats far from united

14-07-2004

The leaders of the three parties trying to put together a new government after Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's resignation last month, met once again on Tuesday, and the outlines of a new government came a step closer. But Mr Spidla's successor at the helm of the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross, is having to tread a very delicate path, not only with his coalition partners, but also among dissenters within his own party. David Vaughan has been following developments.

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKStanislav Gross, photo: CTK Do you think Mr Gross is going to manage to pull things together?

"Yes, I think it's likely - all three parties know they have more to lose from early elections, than from sticking together. After yesterday's meeting, Mr Gross said he would probably have a new government ready for a vote of confidence in parliament by the second half of August, but it's already clear that it won't be a carbon copy of the outgoing team of the same three parties."

Will there be any major policy shifts?

"On the key issue of public finance reform, Mr Gross said on Tuesday that the new government will build directly on the work of its predecessor, so we won't see many changes there, but there are signs that there will be a lot of changes at a ministerial level. In fact some ministries might even disappear altogether. The second largest coalition party, the Christian Democrats, are keeping a close eye on Mr Gross, because they're very determined not to lose any of their three posts in the government - including that of foreign minister."

And there seems to be some dissent within Mr Gross's Social Democrats themselves?

"It's interesting that all three coalition party leaders seem to be unsure of the support of their MPs, which isn't surprising given the record of the outgoing government. They've decided to put a stop to that by insisting that all their deputies in parliament sign a pledge of loyalty. The wording of the pledge is about as vague as you can get: it simply states that they "agree to the formation of a coalition government", but it's quite interesting that some of Mr Gross's own Social Democrat deputies are quite reluctant to sign it, saying that they don't want to sign anything before they know what the government's policy programme is going to be. You have to bear in mind that the Social Democrats are quite deeply divided: Mr Gross is having to deal with the left of the party, which fears that the government might shift to the right, and with loyalists to former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who strongly disapproves of the way the party has developed since his departure two years ago. So I think we're going to see plenty more horsetrading in the coming days and weeks, with the next phase coming next Tuesday, when the three party leaders meet again after talks within their parties."

14-07-2004

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