What next, if the government falls?

23-06-2004

In the weeks following the Czech government's poor showing in recent European Parliament elections there has been increasing pressure on Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla to step down as the chairman of his own party, the Social Democrats. But he's not going willingly, leading to a clash strong enough to bring down the government.

Government meeting, photo: CTKGovernment meeting, photo: CTK Jan Velinger spoke with political analyst Jiri Pehe to find out how the crisis could now unfold, beginning with why the tide had turned against the prime minister in the first place.

"A group of opponents in the Social Democratic Party, supporters of the former chairman of the party and former prime minister Milos Zeman, have been preparing for this clash with Mr Spidla for some time. In fact, already at the beginning of this year they were making it clear that bad results in European elections would be a good opportunity to start an attack on Mr Spidla. The question that of course needs to be asked is to what extent Mr Spidla is guilty of these bad results and to what extent should be blamed."

In effect, there have been two visions within the Social Democratic Party: the one within the minority rebel faction is that the Social Democrats should have never formed this coalition government but should have formed a minority government after winning elections in 2002. What you're saying is that it's that vision that they are now trying to realise.

"I wouldn't even speak about a vision; I think what's involved is an attempt by a group of people who lost their base in the party after Mr Zeman stepped down, to come back."

Mr Spidla has perhaps surprised his opponents by "going for broke". Essentially he says that if the Social Democrats central executive committee doesn't give him support on Saturday he will resign, which according to constitutional procedure would be the end of the current coalition. What are some of the possible scenarios if Mr Spidla does indeed resign?

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTKVladimir Spidla, photo: CTK "In terms of scenarios this could lead to early elections and the Social Democratic Party could be soundly beaten. So, Mr Spidla is at this point playing a rather smart game, because he has tied his future to that of the government."

One of the central players whose future is constantly being speculated about is Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. Many see him as potentially the next chairman of the Social Democratic Party as well as the next prime minister. How do you think he's going to play his moves at the upcoming meeting of the central executive committee?

Well I think that Gross on the one hand realises that this is a moment in which he probably should take over, that he cannot really hide behind Mr Spidla anymore, and he will be judged in the future on how he handles this crisis. On the other hand, he realises that he would be putting himself in a very bad position if he had to form a minority government that by definition would be very weak. So I think that Mr Gross may prefer a compromise solution, he may in the end support Spidla, though we can't really know at this point."

In the event that the government would fall the Czech president would ask somebody else to lead the minority government; in this case the speculation is on Stanislav Gross.

"I think that Mr Klaus is the kind of president who wants to strictly follow constitutional procedures. He would, I think, appoint a new leader from the Social Democratic Party to lead the government, not try to by-pass the Social Democrats because they still retain the largest caucus in Parliament and they won the elections in 2002. He could of course, in theory, appoint someone else and try to form a government of experts somehow formed without the Social Democratic Party. But, then such a government would have to go to Parliament and ask for a vote of confidence and it is not entirely clear that it would pass. So, in the event Mr Spidla goes, Klaus would ask the second most powerful man in the Social Democratic Party, Stanislav Gross, to form a new government."

23-06-2004