Czech government clings to power in confidence vote

By bne IntelliNews April 30, 2012

Tim Gosling in Prague -

As expected, the Czech governing coalition survived a confidence vote on April 27, clinging onto power for dear life with 105 votes in the 200-seat parliament. However, the government's majority remains slim and informal, and although it immediately promised to continue its wildly unpopular programme of austerity measures, that looks a tall order if it wants to survive the next two years.

Although Prime Minister Petr Necas claimed full confidence ahead of the vote - which followed the split of junior coalition partner Public Affairs (VV) the previous week - he only had to look south-east to Bucharest for a warning sign. That same afternoon, the Romanian government fell to a surprising defeat in a similar parliamentary vote, despite enjoying a far greater majority than its Czech peer.

The backlash against austerity also saw the administration in the Netherlands fall in the same week, whilst it's an issue that is producing much of the drama in the current French elections. The fall of the right-leaning Slovak coalition in March also had its roots in austerity.

In Prague, the vote was designed to test how many MPs from VV that Karolina Peake, the leader of the faction splitting off, could persuade to join her in supporting the Civic Democrats (ODS) and Top 09, the two parties making up the remainder of the coalition. After nine hours of heated debate, 105 lawmakers voted in favor of the coalition. 93 MPs voted against the government, illustrating just how tight the majority is, particularly for an administration planning to push through painful spending cuts and tax hikes, which have angered much of the population but seen the country's cost of borrowing drop well below many Western European states. ODS and Top 09 mustered 94 seats between them, suggesting 11 VV deputies have been recruited. However, their support remains informal for the moment, with Peake needing 10 MPs to form an official parliamentary group that is needed to sign a new coalition agreement. It has been suggested that some of those siding with the government in the vote have also said they plan to remain within VV.

Necas and his coalition partners will be relieved to have managed as many as 105 votes. Although the PM originally put on a show of defiance when VV split, claiming to be ready for early elections should the government struggle to retain a clear majority, he quickly backtracked when it became obvious that the best he could hope for would be an advantage numbering a handful of seats at best, or more likely one or two.

Polls predict that the coalition partners would suffer a heavy defeat to the Social Democrats should an early election occur, with protests against the austerity drive mounting in recent weeks. However, just ahead of the vote, Necas vowed to continue with the austerity programme, reports AP. "We have to take the steps today," the PM said. "If we postpone them, we will have to adopt them anyway but they will be much more painful."

Following the vote, Bohuslav Sobotka, chairman of the major opposition Social Democrats, said it was not normal for the government "to exist when it ignores the mass protests of citizens in the streets."

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