Tim Gosling in Prague -
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas threatened on April 18 to collapse the governing coalition and call early elections unless enough deputies from split junior partner Public Affairs (VV) declare their support to give the government a comfortable parliamentary majority within the next five days.
Deputy PM Karolina Peake walked out of VV on April 17, angered by the party's sixth threat to collapse the government since the coalition was formed in 2010 - a situation only resolved on April 11 - as well as the refusal of de facto VV leader Vit Barta to quit parliament despite his recent conviction for corruption within the party. She stated her intention to form a new political vehicle, and pledged to support the government.
Necas, who also announced that his ODS party is to end its coalition agreement with the scandal-ridden VV, said that the remaining coalition partners will discuss the crisis over the next few days and issued a deadline of April 23 for Peake's faction to drum up support from enough VV deputies to allow the coalition to rule the country, and push through its controversial austerity programme.
"If I do not have by Monday, at the latest, clear information that the government has a comfortable majority, then the right solution is to call early elections for the lower chamber in June this year," Necas told a news conference, according to CTK.
Apparently emboldened by the success of his previous ultimatum to VV this month, Necas is placing a heavy bet that the VV splitters will manage to gather the support of enough MPs to shore up the coalition.
Senior coalition partners ODS and Top 09 occupy 93 of the 200 seats in parliament. That leaves the PM gambling that Peake - who quickly pledged her support to the government on walking out of VV - will be able to recruit a decent proportion of the split party's 21 deputies. Early reports suggested at least six VV members left with Peake, with a couple more said to be on their way. Lidove noviny claimed on April 18 that around nine deputies remain loyal to Barta, with another three uncertain.
"No bare majority of 101 or 102, nothing of that nature would have any sense," Necas insisted. "The government must be able to achieve its goals, it must be able to realize its program of consolidating public finances, cutting the public finance deficit and carrying out its program of modernizing reforms."
At the same time, Necas said that the coalition will not cooperate with the remaining VV rump. "As the prime minister, I regard it as out of the question that my government continues on the basis of cooperation with a parliamentary group one of whose members has been convicted of corruption, although the [court] decision might not be final," Necas said. "The [ODS] board ... has provoked arbitration proceedings as a formal step to terminate coalition cooperation with Public Affairs."
The PM added that further talks are to take place over the next few days to clarify the chaos surrounding the future of his two-year-old government. However, given that the government's harsh austerity programme has provoked a huge drop in support for the coalition parties, and that the opposition Social Democrats would be more than likely to win any early election, Necas is clearly gambling high stakes that Peake can bring enough VV refugees with her.
The events, and Necas' bullish response, appear to support evidence that came out at Barta's trial that ODS and Top 09 have been actively plotting a coup within the ranks of the troublesome VV.
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