Two Things I Don’t Understand

In the week since Czech Prime Minister Nečas stepped down in the wake of a giant corruption scandal (which I commented on here and here), quite a lot has happened.

First, some half-hearted attempts were made to revive the governing coalition. ODS agreed on a replacement for Nečas: Speaker of the House Miroslava Němcová, who would be the first ever female Czech Prime Minister. ODS secured the tepid approval from its coalition partner TOP09 by offering them the Speaker position. TOP09 leader Kalousek (Finance Minister) mocked Němcová’s nomination, however, suggesting that it showed ODS’s lack of new ideas. At the same time, while there is still no love lost between the coalition partners, TOP09 has not yet pulled the plug, and Kalousek has not chosen to side with the public prosecutor in the corruption cases. Instead, he’s said that he was going to turn himself in to the police because he his colleagues had offered to take him out to dinner if he managed to pass some important legislation through the senate.

So here’s one thing I don’t understand. I don’t see why at this point, TOP09 don’t just cut their losses and call for new elections. Sticking with the toxic brand of ODS is tainting them by association, and they could be saying something like “These corruption charges are abhorrent to us. What this country needs right now are new elections, offering the voter a chance to speak his/her mind”. TOP could then benefit from the fact that it remains the only viable party on the right, and the party that actively pulled the plug on an unpopular government and asked the voters for a new mandate. Sure, they might not be in the government if the left gains as much ground as is predicted, but by supporting ODS now in exchange for a speaker of the house position, it seems as though they’re ruining their chances for the future.

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According to the Czech Constitution, the President appoints the Prime Minister. However, with the new directly elected President (directly elected in January for the first time), appointing a new PM became a test case for Zeman, who had announced he’d be doing an activist interpretation to the role of President. He wasn’t lying. Today, Zeman has appointed Jiří Rusnok as the new Prime Minister and has charged him with forming a caretaker government. Rusnok is a former ČSSD finance minister and a Zeman supporter, and like previous caretaker PMs (Fischer, Tošovský), he’s associated with the pre-1989 communist party (although he was not a member, he was a candidate to join the KSČ). In an unprecedented move, Zeman’s ignored the wishes of an apparent majority in parliament that said they’d support ODS’s candidate Němcová. Rusnok’s caretaker government is to prepare early elections, which is what the opposition wanted – but they can’t be too pleased at having the president overrule parliament. Zeman maintains this is the fastest way to new elections, since a new government headed by Němcová would not call new elections, and the opposition can’t muster the 120 votes (out of 200) that it needs to force new elections. However, according to the constitution, a new  government needs to pass a vote of confidence within 30 days, and that seems as unlikely to happen as the opposition mustering the 120 votes they need to call new elections.

So here’s the second thing I don’t really understand: Why does Rusnok even agree to be a sitting duck PM for what can hardly be more than 30 days, probably much less? Why does Zeman appoint someone, who will most likely not pass a vote of confidence in parliament? Is this a ploy to get parliament to just call new elections rather than try a back-and-forth with the president, with the President making new appointments and parliament shooting them down (this can go on for two more rounds before it automatically leads to … new elections)? If it is, what does this move mean for future relations between parliament and the president?

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