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Europe

No confidence in Czech PM

The Czech Republic continues to find itself in a political crisis. Parliament has voted against one government but can't yet form another. Meanwhile, experts are concerned about the president's power trip.

The Czech Republic has been stuck in a deep crisis for almost two months now. And to top it off, technical problems emerged at the worst possible moment: on Wednesday (07.08.2013), the day on which a vote of confidence in the provisional cabinet led by Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok was due to take place, a storm crippled the electronic ballot machine in Prague's House of Representatives. The decisive parliamentary hearing came to a standstill before it could even start. What followed was a tedious procedure with pen and paper, heated debates, changes of heart and lots of delays, lasting altogether for eleven hot and humid hours.

But the result was obvious from the start: the right-of-center parties which made up the former government coalition had already agreed to vote against Rusnok's government of technocrats which mainly consists of political allies of President Milos Zeman and was created against the will of the parliamentary majority. One hundred of the 193 representatives attending the session voted against Rusnok.

Crisis of parliamentary democracy

Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok addresses the media after the new Czech cabinet formed by leftist allies of President Milos Zeman lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in Prague August 7, 2013. Rusnok said he and his government would resign as required by the constitution after failing to win a vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday. REUTERS/Petr Josek

Rusnok was not able to convince parliament to support his government

At the last minute, three members of the assembly decided not to back their parties. That meant that, while the left-leaning provisional government was not confirmed in office, there was no majority for a continuation of the previous center-right coalition either. Parliament has now been left to pick up the pieces. What started as a government crisis has become a crisis of parliamentary democracy.

And President Zeman is not even thinking about calming the waters. He prefers to maneuver his way through gaps in the constitution. On the day of the ballot, Zeman appeared in parliament, in spite of health troubles, and firmly promoted his Rusnok government.

Intrigue and corruption

Political experts have long warned that Zeman intends to transform the Czech Republic from a parliamentary into a presidential democracy. "We are experiencing a complete dismantling of the constitutional state," said political scientist Vladmira Dvorakova. She deems Zeman's strategy as "exceptionally risky" and fears it will destabilize the country.

Jana Nagyova, co-worker and partner of ex-prime minister Petr Necas was released from the custody after five weeks in Ostrava, Czech Republic on July 19, 2013. regional court in Ostrava complied with her request regarding custody. According to court, there is no suspision that she could influence witnesses. (CTK Photo/Jaroslav Ozana)hoto/Michal Krumphanzl)

Jana Nagyova is the woman behind the crisis

The crisis started with a fatal attraction. Jana Nagyova, office manager and mistress of then-prime minister Petr Necas, had attracted the attention of investigators. At the beginning of June, a large-scale raid of the seat of government led to allegations that seemed to come from a political thriller: Nagyova was accused of bribing representatives, working with mafia-like lobbyists and shadowing the then-wife of the prime minister with the help of the secret service. Necas was forced to resign.

Divided society

The standard practice would have been for parliamentary president Miroslava Nemcova to have appointed a new cabinet. That, at least, was what the majority in parliament wanted, and the president should have gone along with that. But the left-wing populist Zeman, who describes constitutional conventions as "idiotic," appointed his own government led by Rusnok, a former economist. As the first directly elected president of his country, Zeman said he could allow himself more powers than his predecessors.

Czech society, however, is deeply split over the president's solo performance. The Necas government had been suffering from rock bottom poll figures for months due to its unpopular austerity policy. The cabinet seemed to be stumbling from one scandal to the next and Zeman won the presidential election partly as a protest against Necas and his team.

Zeman's takeover?

In a poll for Czech television, the opinion research institute STEM/MARK found that 65 percent of Czechs would support a vote of confidence in Rusnok - 34 percent would not. However, criticism of the provisional cabinet has become louder after Rusnok's ministers pushed through important personnel decisions in their own departments and in public companies before parliament had even had a chance to vote on the new administration.

Czech President Milos Zeman speaks during the Czech parliament session in Prague, August 7, 2013. Zeman said on Wednesday he would not appoint a new prime minister for at least several weeks if the cabinet loses a parliamentary confidence vote as expected later on Wednesday. REUTERS/Petr Josek (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: POLITICS)

Zeman now has to decide whether to reappoint Rusnok or choose someone new

And to add more fuel to the fire, right before the vote of confidence, in an interview with Austria's "Kleine Zeitung," former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg compared the way in which Zeman was treating the constitution with the Nazi seizure of power in 1933.

Negotiations about new elections

In his speech to parliament, Zeman said he would let Rusnok govern even if he lost the vote of confidence. As long as the Nagyova affair had not been completely uncovered, he said, he would find it impossible to hand power to the center-right again. After all, another cabinet member could well find himself under investigation. According to the constitution, Zeman must "immediately" announce a new head of government. However, the constitution gives no concrete deadline for a second attempt.

It might all turn out differently anyway. After the turbulence of the debate's last few minutes, Schwarzenberg's TOP 09, the main party in the Necas government, wants to dissolve parliament as soon as possible. The negotiations have already begun. New elections in the fall are therefore becoming more and more likely.

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