Feuding Czech parties prepare for early election

Czech president.jpg

The Czech Parliament is expected to vote next week to dissolve itself, clearing the way for early elections to end a stand-off with the president that has crippled policymaking for nearly two months.

Opinion polls show the centre-left Social Democrats, who have pledged to undo some of the collapsed centre-right cabinet's pension reform and tax utilities and banks to boost public coffers, are likely to win an early vote by a double-digit margin.

Propelled by both conservative and left-wing sentiment in favour of an early election, the lower house is expected to vote on 16 August to dissolve itself, enabling a vote as soon as October. The next regular election would be in May 2014, when European Parliament elections are also to be held.

Political gridlock has clouded the formation of the 2014 budget and Czechs want a viable government in place to tackle priorities such as growth after nearly two years of recession.

The main parliamentary parties have been locked in battle with President Miloš Zeman since June, when he named his long-time ally, economist Ji?í Rusnok, against their wishes to head a new cabinet after the previous centre-right government collapsed under the weight of a spying and bribery scandal.

Parties accuse the leftist president, who won the EU member's first direct presidential election in January, of flouting constitutional conventions and making a power grab by appointing his ally.

Rusnok lost a vote of confidence on Wednesday (7 August). But the vote also revealed cracks in the centre-right coalition, which failed to muster a majority that would give it legitimacy to pressure Zeman to appoint its own candidate as prime minister.

The break prompted the conservative TOP09 party, part of the former ruling coalition, to join the main leftist parties – the Social Democrats and Communists – in support of a new election. TOP09's vote will give a motion to dissolve Parliament the needed constitutional majority to pass.

"We have these new votes guaranteed by TOP09," said Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka. "I really hope that … other parties also join us. I think it would be a great signal for citizens … We will act so that the Czech Republic remains a parliamentary democracy."

Under the constitution, Parliament's resolution on its own dissolution will go to the president. He then has to dissolve the house and call a new election to be held within 60 days of that decision.

Miloš Zeman, a centre-left former prime minister, won the Czech Republic's first direct presidential election on 26 January 2013, marking a departure from the departing eurosceptic President Václav Klaus.

Zeman easily defeated his conservative opponent, Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister.

Zeman, an economic forecaster who was a Communist party member before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has steered the Czechs closer to Europe's mainstream. The anti-EU Klaus succeeded the late playwright Václav Havel, a dissident who became the country's first post-communist president.

  • October 2013: Czech Parliamentary elections expected
  • 22-25 May 2014: European Parliament elections

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