Czech PM wins confidence vote for reset center-right coalition

Czech PM wins confidence vote for center-right coalition government and avoids threat of early elections

Politics & Policy
Chris Johnstone | 27.04.2012
Embattled PM Petr Nečas argues his case as former VV deputy Karolína Peake looks on

Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrat, ODS) won a lifeline for his center-right government on Friday winning a vote of confidence that he called himself to test support for a new center-right coalition he is forming. The victory also bought him time to consolidate support – and to abandon the threat of early elections, which polls show he would lose by a wide margin.

PM Nečas won 105 votes in favor of the confidence motion with 93 against in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament (Chamber of Deputies). A simple majority of those MPs present (two were absent for the vote) was all that was required. He had called the vote as the “best test” of support for his government after a split in the smallest coalition party, Public Affairs (VV), raised new questions about its survival.

One faction of Public Affairs under deputy prime minister Karolína Peake has spun off and is now seeking to keep the unpopular government in power with the rump of the party — elected to fight corruption in 2010 elections but wracked by scandals in which its de facto leader Vít Bárta was this month given an 18-month suspended sentence for bribery — heading into opposition.

The prime minister warned before the vote that he would dissolve parliament and seek early elections at the end of June if sufficient support — he refused to spell out what that was — had not been forthcoming.

Most polls have predicted that the government parties will be slaughtered in early elections after a series of tax hikes and public spending cuts, with more of the same in the pipeline, with the main left-of-center Social Democrats (ČSSD) returning to power with possible support from the Communists (KSČM), who have been excluded from power since the Velvet Revolution of late 1989 toppled for former Soviet-bloc regime.

Nečas refuted charges that the new reset coalition he is forming — Peake’s supporters have still to total the 10 needed to form a parliamentary group — is based on turncoats or deserters, insisting that the government is maintaining its previous course.  

“It is the right policy, but it is not a popular one,” the prime minister said, defending tax hikes and public spending cuts that sparked a union-organized protest which filled the center of Prague last weekend with around 100,000 protesters and have seen his party’s popularity plunge below the communists in one poll. Unions now want to call a paralyzing general strike against the government by June at the latest. A recent poll showed 79 percent of Czechs unhappy with the current political situation and an overwhelming majority in favor of early elections.

‘It will be more painful and difficult if these reforms are delayed.’

PM Nečas said his “responsible budget” policy had paid off with the Czech Republic, along with Estonia, being the only European countries to have their rating improved by international credit rating agencies. That translated into lower interest rates and savings on the debt service payments the Czech Republic has to make compared with neighboring Poland and Slovakia, he said.

Public Enemy No. 1

“Debts are the public’s biggest enemy,” declared Nečas, who described himself as his own biggest critic, though others sought to disagree. “It will be more painful and difficult if these reforms are delayed,” he added, referring to the government’s austerity measures.

Nečas laid into the opposition ČSSD for not undertaking unpopular reforms earlier when it was in power prior to 2006 when there was strong economic growth. Tax increases being prepared by the party would take Kč 120 billion a year more from taxpayers and companies and penalize the Czech Republic’s 10 biggest exporters responsible for around half the record trade surplus of 2011, Nečas said. “You have learnt absolutely nothing,” he added, which sparked applause from the government benches.

‘The main motor of this government is fear of new elections.’

ČSSD opposition leader Bohuslav Sobotka focused his attack on what he claimed was the government’s lost legitimacy and fear of early elections half way through its four-year term. “The government might get a majority in today’s vote of confidence, but its legitimacy according to normal democratic society is another matter,” he said. “The main motor of this government is fear of new elections.”

the much-vaunted reforms were introduced fanatically, chaotically and without explanation or debate, Sobotka said. “They are put through on the basis of trial and error,” he added.

Ticked off at Peake 

Sobotka rounded on the leader of the VV breakaway group, Peake. “If Peake wants to form a new party she should get elected for that party and not on the mandate of a former party,” he said. “The government is based on a platform for which nobody has voted for and which nobody supports,” he added.

Former ČSSD health minister David Rath was a bit blunter, saying Peake and those around her clung to power like ticks. “Why don’t we call it [the group] Klišt’ata [Ticks]?” he suggested as the name for the new party group.

The former finance minister said that the government budget deficit party ignored economic growth and was therefore destined to fail. “Our economy is doing a lot worse than in Poland and Slovakia where they are undertaking budget reforms but with regard to economic growth,“  he added.

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