Czech government loses confidence vote, early elections looking more likely.

By bne IntelliNews August 8, 2013

The Czech Republic’s new leftist government of Jiri Rusnok lost a vote of confidence in parliament on August 7 prolonging a political crisis that entered its third month and paving the way for an early election to be held later this year before a regular due May 2014.

Rusnok’s government, in office since July 10, was appointed by President Milos Zeman to replace the centre-right cabinet of Petr Necas that collapsed in June amid a bribery and spying scandal. Zeman named Rusnok, his long-term ally, against the will of the main political parties that accuse the President of trying to grab powers that should belong to the parliament. Initially without any parliamentary support, Rusnok gradually mustered votes thanks to Zeman’s influence over the left-wing parties in parliament and lost the confidence vote narrowly by 93 to 100 as the centre-right parties kept their pledge to vote against it, CTK news agency reported. Rusnok's government needed support from a simple majority in the 200-seat lower chamber to survive. Seven members were not present during the vote.

The vote also showed disunity in the former ruling centre-right coalition as several of its lawmakers decided to walk out and not cast votes. The coalition comprising Necas’ Civic Democrats (ODS), TOP 09 and LIDEM, claimed it had 101 votes and insisted Zeman to allow them to form a new cabinet to rule until regular general elections in May 2014. But after the vote, TOP 09 joined earlier calls by the main leftist party Social Democrats (CSSD) for snap elections asking for a special parliamentary session to discuss the issue.

After losing the confidence vote, Rusnok said he will resign and stay on as a caretaker until a new government is formed. Under the Czech Constitution, Zeman has a second change to appoint a prime minister but it can take months to do so since there is no constitutional deadline to name a replacement. Prior to the vote in parliament, Zeman said he will not name Rusnok’s replacement at least for several weeks to ensure the continuing police investigation that toppled Necas government. Such a move will also give political parties more time to muster the needed 120 votes to end the current parliament’s term. In such a case, early elections should be called within 60 days after the parliament’s dissolution. An earlier motion by CSSD for snap elections failed to win support in parliament but with TOP 09 now joining the camp chances of Czechs going to the polls later this year have grown. CSSD is tipped to win the next general elections as it holds a double-digit lead in opinion polls.

The political instability was largely ignored by the market used to frequent cabinet reshuffles as in the past decade it saw seven governments come and go. But the prolonged political standoff is delaying measures needed to revive the economy stuck into its longest recession and casting doubts over next year’s budget.

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