ONTD Political

Czech coalition government survives vote of no confidence

1:39 pm - 05/03/2012
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and his newly configured coalition survived a parliamentary confidence vote April 27, receiving 105 votes in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies.

There were some nine hours of debate, utilized by opposition parties to criticize budget cuts implemented by Nečas, more of which are planned.

"I am glad a sufficient number of deputies was found to support the government's reform manifesto," Nečas said. "It will be necessary to maintain the majority."

In the latest in a series of existential government crises, Nečas had been forced to reshuffle the coalition makeup after the Public Affairs (VV) party disintegrated in late April.

Always an unpredictable partner for Nečas' Civic Democrats (ODS) and junior coalition TOP 09, VV began coming apart following the mid-April bribery conviction of party financier and de facto leader Vít Bárta. Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake left the party to form her own parliamentary group, sending Nečas and his allies scrambling to put together an ad hoc group of MPs that would support the government and allow it to continue. The bulk of MPs that made the difference in the April 27 vote defected from VV along with Peake.

"It would be simple and cheap to say that some relief has come now," Peake said. "We are at the beginning of the government's second chance to show it can rule in a comprehensible fashion and to restore the public's trust to the government."

Indeed, that trust appears to be broken, as one recent poll found well over two-thirds of Czechs wished for an end to the Nečas government and early elections.

A union-organized protest drew as many as 100,000 people to Wenceslas Square to call for the fall of the government April 21. The turnout has galvanized union leaders, who now believe they have a public mandate to take further steps.

Most polls find the opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD), who already control a majority in the Senate, would win any early election, a major motivator as the right-leaning government sought to avoid elections and secure a new parliamentary majority.

Most experts anticipate a strong showing for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) in any election as well, meaning left-wing parties would likely control well over half of Parliament's lower house. ČSSD Chairman Bohuslav Sobotka continues to call for new elections.

In the meantime, Nečas has moved quickly to re-establish his footing since the confidence vote, and according to Czech Television, will appoint Masaryk University former rector Petr Fiala as education minister. Fiala would replace Josef Dobeš, formerly of VV. Nečas is slated to discuss the post with Peake.

In an argument that mirrors much of his rhetoric, Sobotka was critical of the move.

"I consider it entirely dismal that the post of education minister has not been filled for several weeks while we are amid a debate on reforms to the universities," Sobotka said.

He went on to denounce planned austerity measures that would see the closure of schools in more rural stretches of the country.

The government also looks poised to strip the convicted Bárta, who remains an MP, of as many powers as it can. Chamber of Deputies Speaker Miroslava Němcová (ODS) has called for his resignation, but Bárta seems unlikely to step down.

Bárta is a member of Parliament's budget and organizational committees, and Němcová is moving to remove him. Jaroslav Škárka, another former VV MP who was convicted of bribery, also looks set to lose his committee seats.


Activists call for national strike

Trade unions and anti-government activists have vowed to hold a major protest and strike before the end of June in a bid to show politicians the extent of public opposition to cuts, reforms and political infighting.

Unions and activists say the turnout at the April 21 demonstration, the largest seen in the Czech Republic for at least 15 years, is a sign the general population backs their cause.

The April 21 protest, attended by as many as 100,000 people, was organized by the "Stop the Government" platform made up of unions and civic associations. Originally, this platform was set to disband after the protest, but as a result of a meeting last week between union leaders and protesters, it will keep operating and will organize the nationwide protest set for some time at the end of June if no changes are made by the government. Before this, individual groups will hold other protests.

More details are expected to be released in mid-May, but the group also plans to hold seminars explaining their efforts and main arguments.

"In case we are not invited to the table with the government and employers where reasonable changes are introduced, we plan to coordinate a national strike," said Jana Kašparová, spokeswoman for the Czech and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions.

"Unions think this government has no moral power to finish this election term. If the government doesn't react reasonably to the massive protests, it will lead to a national strike."

Despite the pressure, the government has remained committed toward its cuts and reform program. Recently, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said the austerity efforts were necessary for the country.

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