President Vaclav Klaus begins talks on Thursday to resolve the ongoing political crisis. Last week Mirek Topolanek failed to win a vote of confidence in his minority cabinet, and on Wednesday he'll formally submit his resignation to the president. The ball is now back in Mr Klaus's court - so what lies in store for a country which has spent the last four months without a proper government?
On paper President Klaus has quite a few options, but in practice it's not clear whether they'll produce any concrete solutions. According to the Constitution, Mr Klaus has the first two goes at nominating someone to form a government. He's had his first - Mirek Topolanek - and that failed. He can give Mr Topolanek a second chance, but it's clear from Mr Topolanek's Civic Democrats that he himself is no longer counting on being prime minister.
Instead, Mr Klaus is letting it be known via his advisers that he's in favour of a cross-party government of technocrats, led by an uncontroversial premier, someone that all the parties in parliament will support as a short-term measure to take the country to early elections next year. As usual in situations like this, all sorts of names are being thrown up, including Jan Strasky, who served briefly as prime minister of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the former trade and industry minister Jan Dlouhy and Michaela Erbenova from the Czech National Bank.
The problem, however, is Jiri Paroubek, the former prime minister and Social Democrat leader. He is claiming that he can put together a majority government, meaning one supported by the Social Democrats, the Communists and presumably at least one MP who would defect from one of the centre-right parties. Mr Paroubek is demanding the right to try this option.
Under the Czech Constitution, President Klaus might have to give him that right. If Mr Klaus's second choice also fails, it would then be up to the chairman of the lower house - himself a Social Democrat - to nominate someone. The Civic Democrats are saying publicly that Mr Paroubek is bluffing when he claims he can find enough votes in parliament for a majority. Privately, however, some are believed to be worried that he might just be able to pull it off. So a government of technocrats and early elections is seen as far more desirable, for the centre right at least.
The outcome of all this will depend partly on President Klaus and his negotiating skills, and partly - as is increasingly the case in the last few years - on the Communist party. Without them, a caretaker cabinet can't survive a vote of confidence in parliament if the Social Democrats refuse to support it. Equally, Mr Paroubek in turn can't create this supposed majority government without the Communists. So they really hold the key.
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