Czech PM wins showdown to boost survival chances

By bne IntelliNews November 7, 2012

bne -

Confirming the self-preservation instincts of the country's centre-right, the wobbling Czech government looks likely to survive yet another close call after three rebel MPs from the coalition-leading Civic Democrats (ODS) announced on November 6 that they are to resign from parliament ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote.

Petr Tluchor, unofficial spokesman for the rebels, told reporters that three of the rebels will quit as MPs, but remain in the ODS. Another two, he said, will vote with the government, and one will abstain. That offers the government a better chance of gaining the simple majority it needs.

The lower house votes for a second time on November 7 on the coalition's latest austerity measures, which will raise VAT and taxes on high earners. Prime Minister Petr Necas attached a vote of confidence to the bill after a group of six rebels from his own party helped defeat the first vote in early October.

The PM has threatened to push for early elections should the second vote fail. A national vote would see the parties making up his centre-right coalition likely annihilated at the polls, with the population furious over their harsh austerity programme.

While it's not the first time this year that Necas has used the threat of sending the right into the political wilderness in a bid to rein in a threat to his coalition, it is the first time it has worked. His failed attempts during those previous crises had left him vulnerable to the rebels after trimming the coalition's majority to just one seat, and the coalition saw it lose even that advantage last week to leave it with 99 of the 200 seats in the lower house.

However, as bne has suggested , political survival instincts were always likely to prevent a collapse. That was especially so given the fact that the rebellion was actually centered on a power struggle within the ODS, rather than the rebels' argument that austerity is slowing an economy already in recession. "We don't want the government to fall and the Communists to take power," Tluchor said, according to AFP.

Necas has been backpedaling on the second vote on the bill for close to a month, with last weekend's ODS congress clearly the real battleground. The PM soundly defeated a challenge to his leadership in that forum, and now confidently expects the VAT bill to pass. "I want to confirm that a compromise has been found between the party leaders and the (rebel) lawmakers about the consolidation bill," the PM told a press conference, reports AFP. "I firmly believe that this step has resolved this conflict within the ODS caucus."

Zbynek Stanjura, head of the ODS parliamentary faction, suggested to Reuters that the government is confident it has the support of right-wing deputies that have fallen by the wayside through the year also. "We will be glad if some other deputies support the government... many of those who are in opposition now had earlier voted for the cabinet's agenda."

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