VV defector Peake short of support for new Czech gov’t coalition as deadline looms

New look center-right Czech government coalition still short of target support ahead of end Monday deadline

Politics & Policy
Chris Johnstone | 23.04.2012
Deputy PM Karolína Peake has left Public Affairs (VV) to form a new political party, but wants to work with her former coalition partners ODS and TOP 09

The fate of the center-right Czech coalition government was still in the balance early on Monday with Public Affairs (VV) party leading defector and deputy prime minister Karolína Peake still scrambling to add more members of parliament to her side from her former party.

Prime Minister Petr Nečas set an end Monday deadline for a new coalition of his own Civic Democrats (ODS), TOP 09 and Peake’s VV refugees to come up with a comfortable majority to continue in office or for the country to face early elections to the lower house of parliament at the end of June.

He has also raised the bar for Peake, who split the crumbling VV party in two last week when she announced she was leaving, to become the new partner in a reformatted coalition by stipulating she would have to muster the 10 members of parliament required to constitute a group in the lower house.

At the weekend, Peake said she had eight  members of parliament, including herself, lined up. She added on Czech Television (ČT) on Sunday that another four or five were still considering whether to join her, including a former ODS member of parliament, Michal Doktor.

If Peake can create a parliamentary group with a bare minimum of 10, including Doktor, that should give the government a total of 103 assured votes in the 200-seat lower house. That total counts on former Prague mayor Pavel Bém, who suspended his membership in the ODS following leaked tapes suggesting corruption during his era in power at Prague City Hall.

Breathing space

The rump of the Public Affairs party around de facto leader Vít Bárta has in effect given Nečas and Peake extra time if needed to try and consolidate their support and form the new coalition. A meeting of the three leaders of the outgoing coalition agreed on Sunday that the existing coalition deal will not be terminated until Friday, with members of the parties continuing to support legislation which they have already agreed upon. This includes key austerity measures, such a cuts in pension raises, which had been opposed by VV.  

VV chairman Radek John has also repeatedly pledged that a Peake-lite Public Affairs will be a constructive opposition and not seek to unseat a new government or call for early elections, which would in all likelihood lead to a government led by the main opposition, the left-of-center Social Democrats (ČSSD), backed by the laregly unreformed communists (KSČM). The government, therefore, has little to fear in the near future from a vote of no-confidence.

Early elections would also spell the annihilation of the VV party, with recent polls showing its support has plummeted to between 1-2 percent following the highly publicized trial and conviction of Vít Bárta for bribing fellow members of parliament. He was given a suspended sentence of 18 months but has continued to hold onto his parliamentary seat.

PM intervention

The atmosphere of Sunday’s meeting drawing the line under the unstable and bickering coalition that has governed the country for the last two years was probably not helped by Peake’s admission Sunday that PM Nečas had intervened personally to try and persuade targeted VV members to quit the party in favor of his ongoing deputy prime minister and anti-corruption fighter.

Opinion polls show Nečas’ party and TOP 09 (the party headed by nobleman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg but in which Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek makes most of the running) would be hammered in early elections. A recent poll put the ČSSD as the way out winners with the communists in a surprise second place. The government had made unpopular austerity measures its flagship policy amid sluggish economic growth with a stated target of a balanced budget by 2016.

One of the biggest anti-government demonstrations of its kind in the Czech Republic on Saturday led to around 100,000 people to gather in Prague to protest government austerity measures. Union leaders who organized the protest threatened general strikes if the government does not fall. 

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