Czech party weighs support for new PM, his chances remain weak

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 19, 2013 7:21 AM
Czech party weighs support for new PM, his chances remain weak

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic's main center-left party signaled on Friday it might support the new cabinet led by an ally of President Milos Zeman in a vote of confidence due in early August, though the government's chances of success remain weak.

Zeman infuriated the Czech political parties last month by appointing his ally Jiri Rusnok as prime minister against their will. They accuse Zeman of making a power grab with the move, which threatens months of political turmoil in a country long favored by investors as a safe haven among emerging economies.

The Social Democrats initially rejected Rusnok but now fear that if he fails, their opponents from the former ruling center-right coalition may get a chance to form a new cabinet.

"The discussion will not be easy. The cabinet was formed without consultations with parties, including us," said party leader Bohuslav Sobotka, who has for years had difficult relations with Zeman.

The president chose Rusnok - who served as finance minister in a Zeman-led cabinet in 2001-02 - after the resignation of center-right prime minister Petr Necas in a spying and bribery scandal involving a close aide.

Even if the Social Democrats decide to back Rusnok, along with the far-left Communists and another small party that has indicated support, he will fall short of a majority if the often fractious center-right coalition votes together.

The Social Democrats have indicated that one of their conditions for backing the Rusnok cabinet could be the post of finance minister, currently held by Jan Fischer.

Fischer is under pressure to quit due to a row over funding of his failed presidential campaign earlier this year. Donors paid off debts he accumulated from the campaign with cash deposits following his nomination as finance minister. Fischer has denied any wrongdoing.

If Rusnok fails, Zeman will need to appoint another prime minister. If that choice also fails, the head of parliament - who is from the center-right Civic Democrats - will have a final try, which is what the coalition is hoping for.

But there are no time limits for Zeman to act and the parties fear he would keep Rusnok for months even after a failed confidence vote.

The crisis may still end in a parliamentary vote to bring forward a national election due in May 2014 to later this year.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, editing by Gareth Jones)