The leader of the junior TOP 09 party in the rump Czech coalition government has said the government may fall within weeks although it is expected to survive Friday’s no-confidence vote, called by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, chairman of the senior Civic Democrats (ODS).
Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister and a deputy prime minister, said in an interview with the news server Aktualne.cz that the vote would only delay the ouster of the center-right government, which is expected to win confidence with 103 votes in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament.
The ODS and TOP 09 have 92 mandates in the lower house. Nečas called for a vote of confidence as the best test of its staying power and support following the departure of Public Affairs (VV) from the coalition, which now consists of the ODS and TOP 09, with a pledge of support from 10 MPs aligned with ex-VV member Karolína Peake, who is also a deputy prime minister; she is now forming her own political platform.
Prior to the breakup of VV, Nečas’ government had a 115-seat majority in the lower house; his likely three-seat margin now is uncertain because two of his supporters are also being investigated by police on corruption allegations and police have asked MPs to lift the parliamentary immunity for one of them.
“The vote on Friday [April 27] is not so important; what is important is whether MPs maintain discipline and vote for the laws as promised,” Schwarzenberg said, alluding to the highly unpopular austerity measures and a draft church restitution law.
Nečas’ first priority is to push through Kč 152 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts over two years to bring the budget deficit to 1.9 percent of GDP by 2014. Asked what kept him in the government — Schwarzenberg is going to run for the Czech presidency next year — he said it was the necessity of pushing through that program, saying the country could otherwise head the way of Hungary and Greece. ‘We have become exceedingly unpopular ... also due to corruption scandals and disputes in the government.’
“We have become exceedingly unpopular [because of it]. And also due to corruption scandals and disputes in the government,” Schwarzenberg told Aktualne.cz; last weekend about 100,000 demonstrators marched to demand the government’s resignation in what the trade union organizers called the biggest protest action staged in the Czech Republic since the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
The biggest grouping of trade unions, the Czech and Moravian Confederation of Trades Unions (ČMKOS), has threatened to plan further protests – possibly a general strike — that “will hurt the government” enough that it will roll back the austerity measures.
Apart from the belt-tightening, the proposal for the Czech state to compensate the Catholic Church and other religious orders and groups for property confiscated by the communist regime the state will pay out Kč 59 billion over 30 years is also highly unpopular, coming under fire from within the ranks of the ODS and left-wing opposition. It also wants to introduce university tuition payments and to raise healthcare contributions.
“The government will fall with a few weeks delay” if MPs in the coalition do not support its key measures, Schwarzenberg said. “Then there is no point in carrying on, if it cannot keep to its own program.”