On the day that the Czech Cabinet resigns from office, intensive informal talks are underway on forming a new government. At the very centre of activity is the acting chairman of the Social Democratic Party Stanislav Gross - the man whom President Klaus is expected to ask to try to form a new government.
After several days of behind the scenes negotiations, Stanislav Gross gave the press a fairly clear indication of his goal - to preserve the badly weakened three party governing coalition, infuse it with new blood and try to avoid the pitfalls of cooperating with the largely unreformed Communist Party or with the right wing Civic Democrats, who are striving for a caretaker government and early elections.
Although Mr. Gross is known to be a persuasive behind the scenes player he has a lot going against him. Especially in view of the latest blow to the already weakened three party coalition. Two deputies of the Freedom Union have withdrawn their support, leaving the coalition two votes short of its 101 vote majority in the Lower House. It seems that independent deputy Petr Kott has been persuaded to fill the void - but that would still leave the coalition one vote short of a razor thin majority in Parliament. Mr. Gross claims he has been promised the necessary vote, but no one knows who would tip the scales.
In any case the acting chairman of the Social Democrats is on very thin ice - and he will have to convince President Klaus that that the three party coalition, which suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent elections to the European Parliament, is stronger and better for the departure of one man - outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla.
President Klaus has already expressed his doubts about that, describing it as a "risky" government set up, in view of the Freedom Union's volatile position and the "likelihood of disunity" among the seventy deputies of the Social Democratic Party. As regards the other possible alternatives, the President has said he would not name a government that would have to lean on the unreformed Communists, but that he could accept a government based on an opposition agreement with the Civic Democrats. Such an agreement however would give Mr. Gross' potential cabinet a very short lifespan indeed. All things considered, the probability of early elections in 2005 is very high indeed.
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