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Europe

Czech Prime Minister Says He'll Quit After Losing Vote of Confidence

The Czech government has collapsed after Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a vote of confidence in parliament. It's unknown what Topolanek's planned resignation will mean for the Czech European Union presidency.

Czech Prime Minister

Topolanek says he'll step aside

It was a close vote. But four renegade Czech lawmakers abandoned Topolanek on Tuesday, March 24, toppling the ruling coalition. It was the fourth time Topolanek had faced a vote of confidence in his two years in office.

Topolanek was able to secure only 96 votes in the 200-seat lower house after failing to win over the renegade lawmakers in last-minute talks.

Topolanek confirmed that he plans to resign.

"I will behave exactly in line with the constitution," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

The constitution says the government must resign after losing a vote of confidence.

Topolanek’s right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) ruled together with the Christian Democrats and the Green party. Yet Topolanek relied on the support of several independent members of parliament, who had defected from the ruling coalition, to give him a majority.

EU presidency uncertain

Czech President Vaclav Klaus speaks during the meeting

Czech President Vaclav Klaus will be tasked with finding a successor

Czech President Vaclav Klaus will now look for a parliamentarian with enough support to form a new government. If three attempts to form a government fail, early elections will be called.

Before the vote, Social Democrats had said they wanted to see Topolanek's government stay on to complete the six-month rotating EU presidency, which the Czech Republic holds until the end of June.

Social Democrat chief Jiri Paroubek reiterated that stance after the vote, saying it was "natural that the government would stay until the end of the EU presidency" on June 30, AFP reported.

Topolanek has said his party would like to have early elections this summer. The opposition Social Democrats want elections to be held in autumn.

Unusual, but not unprecedented

A change in government would complicate the Czech EU presidency, Topolanek said after the no confidence vote.

"I believe it can complicate our negotiating power ... partners in Europe have grown used to us negotiating hard. In this sense it can happen that our position will be weakened," he told reporters.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Prague next week for talks with Czech and European leaders. While the situation of a government changing during its six-month European Union presidency is unusual, it isn’t unprecedented.

In 1996, Italy’s center-left coalition under Romano Prodi took over from Lamberto Dini's centre-right government following a legislative election. And in 1993, Denmark began its EU presidency with a change in leadership when Poul Schlueter's conservatives were replaced by Social Democrats under Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

Hungary, Lativa in crisis

The Czech Republic has been less affected than some eastern European countries by the global financial crisis. Financial turmoil has brought down leaders in both Hungary and Latvia already this year.

Latvia's new prime minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, who was sworn in just a few weeks ago, said on Monday that he might have to ask for a fresh loan from international lenders to see his country through the crisis.

Hungary's Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has offered to step aside to allow someone new to tackle the country's financial problems. The ruling coalition plans to announce a replacement by the end of the week.

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