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Czech government loses confidence vote

08 August 2013, 16:41

Prague - The technocratic government in the Czech Republic lost a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, sparking calls for a snap election to end a political crisis triggered by a spy and bribery scandal.

The government, led by economist Jiri Rusnok, had been appointed by left-wing president Milos Zeman on 10 July after the resignation of the previous scandal-hit premier, Petr Necas.

Necas has admitted having a love affair with his chief-of-staff Jana Nagyova, whose indictment on bribery and abuse of power charges eventually brought down his centre-right government.

Under Czech law, the parliament had to approve the new government within 30 days but Rusnok won only 93 votes from the 193 lawmakers present, falling short of the simple majority needed.

"I see the result as a very dignified loss," Rusnok told reporters, after nine hours of debate in the chamber.

He added that he would officially resign later this week but would continue to lead the cabinet until early elections.

Election date

His cabinet would go on "implementing a common agenda that stirs no political controversy", said Rusnok.

The Czech Republic's traditional political parties, who felt snubbed when Zeman appointed long-time ally Rusnok at the head of a non-political government, immediately began manoeuvring for new elections.

Parliamentary speaker Miroslava Nemcova, from the right-wing Civic Democrats party formerly led by Necas, said her party might back early elections, although they currently trail in the opinion polls.

"The option is still on the table, we never ruled it out," she said before the confidence vote.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the left-wing Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, said elections could take place as early as October.

"It doesn't make sense to wait," he told reporters.

Dissolution debate set to begin

Polls show the Social Democrats would easily emerge the victors of a snap vote.

Lawmakers were expected to begin debating the dissolution of parliament on Thursday.

Under Czech constitutional law, a snap election must take place at least 60 days after parliament is dissolved.

Miroslav Kalousek, vice-chairperson of right-wing party TOP 09, said his group would also back parliament's dissolution "to block the autocratic tastes shown by President Zeman to the bitter end".

With cross-party backing, it appears likely that parliament will vote to dissolve itself and fresh elections will be held, analysts said.

"Since the potential coalition of right-wing parties has crumbled, this seems to be the most reasonable solution," Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Prague's Charles University, said.

Financial crisis

A split on the right emerged during the confidence vote as several centrist and right-wing lawmakers left the room rather than vote against Rusnok, infuriating TOP 09, which polls show is currently the most popular party on the right.

Like much of Europe, the Czech Republic, an EU member of 10.5 million people, has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and has been in recession for a year and a half now.

But analysts say the current political crisis has had little impact on central Europe's third largest economy, which is heavily dependent on car production and exports.

Nevertheless, the central bank has forecast the economy will again shrink this year, by 1.5%.

Political observers had suggested that Zeman might keep the Rusnok cabinet in power even if it lost the confidence vote, as the constitution gives him no deadline to appoint a new line-up.

But the 68-year-old Zeman, who won the country's first direct presidential election in January, may now also benefit from the limbo following the expected dissolution of parliament.

"If the parliament really dissolves itself, we won't have a lower house and we will have a government without confidence," Lebeda said.

"What's left is the senate, which will take over some of the lower house's powers, and the president. This makes it a very interesting situation for him."



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