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Czech president could rescue new cabinet

06 August 2013, 15:08

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Prague - The Czech Republic's new technocrat government appears unlikely to survive a confidence vote on Wednesday, but it could still remain in power with a little help from its leftist ally, the president.

The 68-year-old head of state Milos Zeman has a few aces up his sleeve that could keep in place the cabinet he appointed in a bid to end a political crisis now in its third month.

"In this crisis, Milos Zeman is a player, not an observer," political analyst Jiri Pehe told AFP.

"Besides, he is a player with a certain analytical or political ability, so I'd say he's always a move or two ahead of his rivals."

Zeman appointed economist and ally Jiri Rusnok as prime minister in June after right-wing premier Petr Necas resigned over a scandal that saw his chief-of-staff and lover Jana Nagyova charged with bribery and spying.

Rusnok, whose cabinet is largely made up of experts, managers and former politicians close to Zeman, will face the confidence vote in a parliament dominated by snubbed parties from Necas's former centre-right coalition.

‘Like Diego Maradona’

The new cabinet, only in office since 10 July, faces an uphill battle to muster enough support to win the vote, all the more so as the left-wing Social Democrats - once led by Zeman - have not yet decided whether to back it.

So far the Czech political crisis has not affected the economy, which has been in recession since 2011, with analysts saying the market has yet to respond.

"The koruna isn't reacting, shares aren't reacting, bond prices aren't reacting, interest rates aren't reacting," Marketa Sichtarova, an analyst with the Next Finance Company, told AFP.

Rusnok needs support from a simple majority of lawmakers in the 200-seat chamber to survive the vote.

Pehe said it was difficult to predict whether the cabinet would win as "we have very little transparent information as to what's happening behind the scenes."

"But I personally guess the cabinet won't win the confidence vote.

"The largest political parties are the big losers because they play the game badly... They are defensive, and then there's the president who's dictating the rules and the pace of the game."

If the cabinet fails, Zeman still has options.

The constitution allows the president to pick another prime minister but does not set any dates. This would give Zeman considerable room for manoeuvre.

"For the second attempt, the president has three options, one of them being a cabinet governing without confidence," said Zeman's top secretary Vratislav Mynar.

That would mean Rusnok could continue as premier until the next election in May 2014, which the Social Democrats are tipped to win.

"Milos Zeman is like Diego Maradona, the famous footballer. Unlike most of his rivals he knows what football is. His problem is that he often handles the ball and tends to call it a new rule," the Reflex weekly said in a commentary last week.

"We may rightfully criticise him for this. But it's absurd to be angry that he plays well."

Zeman won the country's first-ever direct presidential election in January. He could decide to pick Rusnok again for premier, while the former governing coalition insists he should name a centre-right cabinet.

Parliament speaker Miroslava Nemcova from Necas's Civic Democrats, the previous coalition's candidate for premier, has repeatedly said her side has 101 votes in the chamber - enough to keep the confidence vote from passing.

The Social Democrats are torn on the vote. Their chairperson Bohuslav Sobotka, who represents an anti-Zeman wing in the party, has said a vote in favour of Rusnok's cabinet would be "a shift towards a presidential system".

Rusnok himself is optimistic, saying Sunday: "I think we will have 96 or 97 votes and that will be enough to secure confidence."



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