Shift in government talks opens the way to an old-new Cabinet

08-07-2004

The last few hours have brought a surprising shift in the talks on forming a new Czech government. Marian Bielesz, one of the two Freedom Union deputies who recently broke party ranks, has given up his mandate in the Lower House. This move will enable the designated Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to gain a slim 101 majority in Parliament - enough for the approval of an old-new coalition government. Daniela Lazarova has been following the story and joins me now in the studio. So, Daniela how will this news affect the talks?

Civic Democrats chairman Mirek Topolanek and Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKCivic Democrats chairman Mirek Topolanek and Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK Well, I'd say that Mr. Bielesz' decision was the answer to Mr. Gross's prayers. The vacant deputy post can now go to a loyal member of the Freedom Union, giving the designated PM the single remaining vote he needs to gain a 101 vote majority in Parliament which would clear the way for an old-new government of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union to be voted into office. Nevertheless, Mr. Gross remains on very thin ice and political analysts say he will need to continue bargaining to get as much support for his coalition government as possible.

But, I understand that he has already been formally rejected by the strongest opposition party -the right wing Civic Democrats - so that only leaves the door open to negotiations with the unreformed communists, doesn't it?

That's right -and that's exactly why Mr. Gross must be extremely grateful for that one extra vote. It means that he will not have to accept whatever conditions the communists lay down. His meeting with the right wing Civic Democrats went rather badly on Wednesday. They refused point blank his offer of lucrative posts in exchange for tolerating an old new government and went so far as to accuse the designated PM of trying to corrupt their deputies.

I was able to reach Petr Necas who was one of the two negotiators for the Civic Democrats at this meeting shortly after the talks and here's what he had to say:

"The Civic Democrats would support only a temporary government which would lead this country to early elections."

What kind of offer did you receive from Mr. Gross?

"The Social Democrats offered us some posts in Parliament and in some state institutions but we are strongly against such an approach."

Are you convinced that all Civic Democratic Party members will remain loyal and refuse various lucrative offers that they are sure to get from the Social Democrats?

"I am sure that all 57 votes that the Civic Democrats have in the Lower House will be in favour of early elections and that our deputies would not vote in favour of this government."

So as we heard, the Civic Democrats are firmly resolved not to support this government and they would undoubtedly do everything in their power to bring it down -even if it were to gain approval in the Lower House. Needless to say, the coming months would give them plenty of opportunities to rock the boat.

Another disturbing aspect is that one of the deputies who would help vote this government into office is Petr Kott, a former Civic Democrat, an alcoholic and an altogether very unrealiable figure indeed. So, Mr. Gross will have to listen very carefully to what the communists have to say -and indeed make fresh offers to individual Civic Democrats if he wants to be successful in forming the next government. Just how far he would be prepared to go is a matter of intense speculation at this point - and no one is watching him more closely that his potential coalition partners of the Christian Democratic Party who want nothing at all to do with the communists.

For them it a win-win situation because they know perfectly well that if Mr. Gross were to fail in forming the next Cabinet then they would still have a big chance to be in the next government as potential partners of the Civic Democrats. So -all said and done - Mr. Gross is in a very tight spot and many commentators believe he has no hope at all of putting together a strong pro-reform Cabinet.

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