Czech center-left pushes for deal on cabinet posts

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2013 12:18 PM
Czech center-left pushes for deal on cabinet posts

By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka made what he called a final offer on Friday to the smallest party in a potential center-left coalition in a push to form a new government by the end of the year.

The Social Democrats want to form a government with centrist movement ANO and the Christian Democrats to fill the void in policymaking since a center-right cabinet collapsed in June amid a bribery and spying scandal.

The division of ministerial posts between the three parties is one of the last outstanding issues before Sobotka can present his government to the president.

But a deal has been held up by demands by the Christian Democrats to have the agriculture ministry portfolio and at least one other "strong" post in the next government.

The Social Democrats, winners of an October snap election by a small margin, proposed the Christian Democrats take the agriculture post along with the culture ministry and a minister without portfolio.

"I see it as a final offer given that it is almost Christmas and the end of the year," Sobotka told reporters after a meeting of coalition party leaders.

Christian Democrat leader Pavel Belobradek told Czech Television the party would discuss the offer, which had been amended to include the agriculture post, but repeated the party wanted at least two strong ministries.

"I am worried it will not be a sufficient offer for the party," he said. He said he hoped there was still room to negotiate and that he expected the party's verdict by Sunday.

The agriculture ministry controls the country's land fund which will oversee the return of property confiscated under communism back to churches, under a law passed in November 2012.

The central European country is run now by a caretaker government lacking a mandate to push through major legislation while the economy recovers from a record-long recession.

The three parties have already agreed on their policy program, pledging to keep budget deficits below the EU's limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product while trying to boost growth.

If the Christian Democrat party rejected the latest offer and pulled out of coalition talks, it would not immediately kill Sobotka's attempt to form a government.

He could still try to run a minority cabinet along with ANO, a movement founded two years ago by billionaire food and agricultural tycoon Andrej Babis. But they would be forced to cobble together support from other parties in the 200-member Czech lower house, impeding their chances of driving through some of their legislative goals.

Sobotka has said this week he wanted to have a majority government. The three parties hold 111 seats together.

If the Christian Democrats reached a deal to stay in the coalition, the group could still face objections from President Milos Zeman, who says he wants a say in cabinet appointments.

(Additional reporting by Jan Schmidt; Editing by Rosalind Russell)