Snap vote due as Czech president prepares "Zeman cabinet"

By bne IntelliNews June 25, 2013

bne -

Setting up a route to snap elections - likely in September - Czech President Milos Zeman said on June 24 that he intends to appoint a caretaker government in the wake of the resignation of Petr Necas as prime minister earlier this month.

The power-hungry head of state said he will announce his choice of an interim PM on the afternoon of June 25, sweeping aside a bid from the current ODS/Top 09 coalition to build a new cabinet to see out their term, which ends in May 2014. The move also ignores the demands of the opposition CSSD, which is demanding early elections. The left-leaning party - which Zeman led as PM over a decade ago before falling out with the current leadership - is a certainty to form the next government.

"A government of experts may have a mandate for about three months, in case of an early election," Zeman said according to Bloomberg, without naming his preference for prime minister. The top name bandied about in the Czech media is Zeman's own aide and former finance minister Jiri Rusnok - a member of the CSSD faction that remains loyal to the former party elder.

However, that faction would face a lonely - and short - time in parliament, given the responses of the major parties. That matters little though; Zeman's "solution" to the political crisis - which was sparked by a series of police raids on ministries, banks and residences earlier this month - is clearly designed to give him the time and opportunity to continue a campaign to expand the influence of his post. He has fought several battles already over the power of the presidency since he moved into Prague Castle in March.

While the CSSD has long insisted on holding early elections, Top09 now appears resigned to its fate, and has been moving to try to create some distance between itself and the thoroughly unpopular ODS. Top09 said on June 23 that it would not support a caretaker administration.

That sees the numbers clearly racking up towards the 120 votes - out of 200 - needed in parliament to dissolve the house and call a snap vote. "I understand from the statements made... so far that there is a big chance to reach an agreement with Top09 on having an early election," CSSD official Jeronym Tejc said following Zeman's announcement, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the ODS also now looks likely to fall on its sword and face the fury of the electorate - the party is facing disaster at the polls thanks to its harsh austerity programme and persistent corruption scandals - rather than allow a "Zeman cabinet" to rule the country for close to a year.

"In this situation," the party leadership said in a statement, according to CTK, "the ODS would view a possible attempt to appoint it [a caretaker cabinet] as an obvious effort to circumvent parliament on whose confidence governments should be based, according to the Czech constitution. This would be the first caretaker cabinet formed counter to the will of all parties in parliament."

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