Parliamentary Arithmetic

So I was reading this article about tomorrow’s vote of confidence in the Czech Lower House, and it confused me to read that 99 out of 200 votes will do. Turns out that some MPs will be abstaining because they are in prison…

The Rusnok government is facing it’s crucial mandatory vote of confidence tomorrow, and things don’t look good – it looks like they won’t get a majority to back them. In it’s short run, this administration has made some waves, with cabinet ministers firing key ministry officials appointed by the right (like former ODS minister Alexandr Vondra)[1] as well as the director of the National Theatre (which has lead to half the troupe resigning in the director’s wake). In addition, people took issue with Jan Fischer’s assuming the post of Minister of Finance when there’s continuing doubts about how he financed his own presidential campaign. Of course, the biggest way in which this administration has made waves is by being in existence in the first place – coming about, as it did, as a result of an unprecedented power grab by the president, who overruled the apparent wish of the majority of parliament which was (and remains) ready to support a government headed by Miroslava Němcová (ODS), who is currently Speaker of the Czech Lower House. One of Zeman’s ploys to avoid continued ODS government was to demand evidence for that the support that Němcová claimed to have, by having those MPs willing to vote for her confirming their intentions in a signed and notarized statement.

When Zeman appointed Rusnok as the new PM, it caused great consternation amongst the Social Democrats (ČSSD). ČSSD is divided between those that support Zeman (formerly leader of the party, but now technically non-partisan) and those that hate his guts. Needless to say, some welcomed Zeman’s move and his appointees, who are generally left-of-center, while others denounced the move as running counter to the spirit of the constitution.

With the vote of confidence (required by the Czech constitution for any new government within a month after it takes office) coming up tomorrow, the ČSSD has now closed ranks, announcing its intention to support the Rusnok government. This comes at a time when it has become clear that Rusnok has actually been unable to gather enough support to pass the vote. A tally in Lidové Noviny has 92 out of 200 votes supporting Rusnok, and another 103 votes against him. Two MPs remain undecided, and three will abstain. For two of the three abstaining MPs, the reason they’re abstaining, is that they’re in prison.


I am not sure why the Social Democrats are choosing to support a constitutionally dubious and controversial government in a vote of confidence that will most likely fail. But the most likely reason, I think, is that they are worried about Presidential retaliation in the future. At some point there will be new elections and the Czech left is set to do well in those elections, and they will have to deal with Zeman, whether they like it or not. By voting for his government now, even if it does fail, they help the President avoid a humiliating defeat, and they help themselves by avoiding the President’s wrath – both of which may pay off in the future.[2]

UPDATES (listening to the plenary debate, 7/8/2013) 

[1] ODS MP Stanjura addressed this, making the point that Fischer was in no position to judge the expertise of Vondra, because Vondra was part of the dissident movement that opposed the communist party before 1989, while at the same time Fischer was a member of that very party. Oh snap!

[2] Stanjura also touched on the situations within the social democratic party ČSSD – saying that Sobotka (the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats who represents the anti-Zeman wing of the party and who argued against supporting the Rusnok government) will never be PM while Zeman is still president (… neither can live while the other survives …).


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