Troubled Czech Government Clings to Power, Survives Confidence Vote
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Petr Necas won the parliamentary vote of confidence on 27 April, thus averting the prospect of a snap election. The government's future remains unstable, however, as diminishing public support, a smaller parliamentary majority, the need for an unpopular austerity path, and the undecided future of the junior coalition partner could easily spark another crisis, which could result in the government's collapse.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The Czech centre-right government of Petr Necas survived the parliamentary confidence vote on 27 April. The vote was called after the smaller coalition party Public Affairs (VV) left the government and the two senior government parties opted for forming an alliance with the VV's defector group led by Karolina Peake.
The vote's successful outcome averted the threat of an early election, which would most likely result in the centre-right's defeat and raise questions about the future of the country's reforms and needed cost-cutting measures.
The government managed to avert yet another crisis, but its future remains undecided. Its slim majority, diminishing public trust and support, the need for more unpopular measures, and the uncertain fate of Peake's group could easily provoke another crisis, which would result in the coalition's collapse. With a popular and highly critical opposition, the government's parliamentary ride will not be easy and it will take strong political resolve for it to see out the end of its elected term.
Act of Survival
Prime minister Petr Necas and Karolina Peake during the parliamentary session in
The Czech centre-right government on 27 April survived a parliamentary vote of confidence, winning the support of 105 lawmakers in the 200-member lower house (Chamber of Deputies). The confidence vote was called by Prime Minister Petr Necas, after the junior coalition party Public Affairs (VV) of Radek John left the government amid internal splits in the party caused by the departure of Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake (VV) and eight other VV members from the party. Necas' Civic Democrats (ODS) and another ruling partner, TOP09, agreed to form an alliance with Peake's group, while the VV section led by John moved into opposition (see Czech Republic: 24 April 2012: Czech Prime Minister Calls No-Confidence Vote, Government Expected to Survive). Prior to the vote, Necas had warned that unless the new government composition garnered "sufficient" support, he would ask the president to dissolve the parliament and call a snap election. Necas did not specify how many deputies he saw as "sufficient" support, however. Apart from TOP09 and ODS deputies, the new government composition was also supported by the whole of Peake's group, as well as three VV lawmakers who stayed with the party, and two former ODS deputies who now sit as independents. At this point, the "new" government controls 102 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, but more VV members could join Peake's faction at a later date.
Speaking after the vote, Necas has pledged to stick to the fiscal consolidation his centre-right government promised after assuming power. He said that the Czech Republic must "take these [austerity] steps today", because if the government "puts them off, they [the measures] have to be taken anyway and would be more painful".
Outlook and Implications
The successful outcome of the confidence vote has at least for the time being prevented the prospect of an early poll, which would most likely see the centre-right parties being defeated and the centre-left Social Democrats (CSSD) returning to power. The government is facing difficult times though. The 102 seats the new government
composition controls is a far cry from the solid 118 seats secured after the 2010 election. Although this majority is still workable, it may put the government in a precarious position when it tries to push ahead with the reforms and the austerity with which Necas is determined to continue. Any conflicts in the coalition—even minor ones, which could result in the potential departure of ODS, TOP09 or "new" VV members—would deprive the government of its majority and result it in an early election. Given that past coalition rifts happened not only due to the VV's internal problems and the party's political unpredictability, but also between the ODS and TOP09 (particularly regarding the country's stance on more stringent EU fiscal rules; see United Kingdom - Czech Republic - Europe: 31 January 2012: EU Member States Agree On Fiscal Treaty; UK and Czech Republic Refuse to Sign), the renewed tripartite coalition will be skating on very thin ice during the remaining two years of its term. The success of its tenure will therefore not only depend on the new faction's responsible approach, but also on all three members' ability to embark on a pragmatic policy stance and their willingness to reach a compromise.
Czech Political Parties' Support (%)
Source: CVVM Polling Agency and Czech Electoral Commission
Achieving political unity will be extremely difficult for the troubled government, in order to regain the trust and support of the public. Although the government's austerity drive is striking the right chord with investors and markets, the measures have not gone down well with Czech citizens and have in fact sparked unprecedented opposition in recent weeks. Earlier in April, tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital, Prague, to protest over the austerity measures and political instability, and they called on the Necas government to resign (see Czech Republic: 23 April 2012: Anti-Government Demonstrators Stage Mass Rally in Czech Republic). Meanwhile, a number of recent public opinion polls suggest the government's popularity is in the doldrums, with one such poll—according to Czech daily Ceska Pozice—even suggesting the government's support is now below that of the opposition Communists (KSCM). The strikes and demonstrations are unlikely to be over yet, as Czech unions are calling for a general strike against the government's policies to be held at some point in May. A lack of public support and diminishing trust in the government will only make the latter's life more difficult.
The VV's future is also undecided. Following scandals and political infighting, the party lost its support among the public, and some opinion polls even suggest it would fail to enter parliament if an early election were held now. John's faction has little chance for survival, and its transfer into opposition could even accelerate its complete fall. The future of Peake's faction—which still does not have an official name—also remains in question. Peake claims her platform is eyeing long-term prospects, rather than just a "two-year intention of going into regional or Senate elections", based on liberal democracy and providing an alternative to the established parties, which, according to her, "in many ways disappointed the electorate". Peake's group first of all needs to attract more members in order to be able establish itself as a legitimate political party, and then it needs to agree on its political platform and future course. Whether or not it manages to garner public support depends on whether or not it can distinguish itself from the ill-fated VV, fight for a crackdown on corruption and lack of transparency—the main issue on which the VV won over electorate support in 2010—and behave responsibly, as opposed to presenting ultimatums in order to achieve its political objectives, which was frequently the case with the VV.
For now, the centre-right government is clinging to power, but its ride in parliament will not be easy. In fact, it could take very little to spark another crisis, which could result in its premature collapse.
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