Prime Minister Gross tells Czechs: sorry about the scandal, the crisis is over

07-03-2005

The Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross went on national television with a public apology to the nation for a scandal over his private finances that threatened to bring down the entire Cabinet. Following weeks of internal discord the three parties in the Czech governing coalition called a temporary ceasefire which would enable the Cabinet to continue functioning. However commentators say that this row is far from over and predict a tough battle ahead for Europe's youngest government leader.

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKPrime Minister Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK Daniela Lazarova has been following the story. Daniela, only last week it seemed that the Cabinet was on the brink of collapse. Has the Prime Minister really survived the crisis?

That's not at all certain. The Prime Minister says he's survived it. After giving the nation a rather lukewarm apology on Saturday for "mishandling the apartment row" as he put it, he said he considered the matter closed and called on his ministers to get back to work. But in actual fact very little has changed. Certainly, the Prime Minister received overwhelming support from his party's leadership at a party gathering on Saturday, bolstering his position. But the Christian Democrats -one of the three parties in government- who have now back-tracked on their demands that the PM should resign say that they are only giving the Social Democrats breathing space to resolve the problem. They want the Social Democrats to ditch him at the party's national conference at the end of March and have more or less made it clear that they will mount a new offensive if Mr. Gross remains in office after that date.

If one of the three parties in government does not find the PM trustworthy -then how capable is this Cabinet of working?

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTKPresident Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK Well, it is clear even now that this row has weakened it severely and will continue to do so. The PM says it is time to get back to work but in the coming weeks he himself will have to focus on gaining as much support as he can in view of the coming party conference. The Christian Democrats' allegiance is uncertain and the leading opposition party, the Civic Democrats have said that they plan to initiate a vote of no-confidence in the Gross government. So there are plenty of battles ahead for Mr. Gross and it seems that he will spend the next few months in office just fighting to remain there. Many commentators believe that the only reason why the government has not yet collapsed is the low standing of all three coalition parties in opinion polls and their own survival instincts. On the other hand, the opposition Civic Democrats lead opinion polls by a wide margin, and they are in a position of strength. They may let the coalition government stew in its own juice for a while and lose more public support -or they may opt to test the solidarity of the coalition government with a no-confidence vote in Parliament and try to bring about early elections.

The president has criticized the coalition truce, has he not?

Yes, Mr. Klaus was openly critical, saying the problem had not been resolved, merely put on hold and he seems particularly concerned about the effect this will have on the public. The public is, as you can imagine, sick and tired of watching these political skirmishes that never seem to reach any satisfactory conclusion and there are fears that this "disgust" with politics may affect voter turn out in the next general elections.

07-03-2005