Czechs Begin Horse-Trading Over Choice For New PM

by
Reuters
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas formally handed in his resignation on Monday after a bribery and spying scandal that centred on an aide, but it will take at least a week of horse-trading before a replacement is put forward.

* President accepts prime minister's resignation

* Talks on new PM scheduled for weekend and next week

* Czechs anxious to get new government installed fast

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas formally handed in his resignation on Monday after a bribery and spying scandal that centred on an aide, but it will take at least a week of horse-trading before a replacement is put forward.

President Milos Zeman's approval is needed for the next prime minister but he has fractious relations with the governing coalition. Czechs are anxious to avoid a damaging period of political paralysis in their country of 10.5 million people, which has been in recession for a year and a half.

"The worst thing to happen to this country would be weeks of agony," said Petr Gazdik, one of the leaders of the TOP09 party, a junior partner in the governing coalition.

Under the constitution, the whole government must now step down along with Necas. His administration will stay on as caretakers until a new government is in place.

Necas quit after prosecutors charged the director of his office, Jana Nagyova, with illegally ordering agents to spy on people including Necas's wife, according to lawyers for two defendants in the case.

He said he was not aware of any surveillance, but the fall-out from his aide's arrest undermined his position. Nagyova was also charged with bribing members of parliament to drop a rebellion against Necas last year.

After accepting Necas's resignation, the president scheduled a series of talks with political parties for this weekend and next Monday, to try to identify a candidate for prime minister who could win support in the divided parliament.

POTENTIAL CANDIDATES

The outgoing prime minister's Civic Democratic party wants to form a new government, under a different leader, with their two junior partners and see out their regular four-year term that expires next May.

The party's leadership met on Monday but it did not reveal who its possible candidate would be. One choice would be Martin Kuba, the 40-year-old industry minister. He became the party's acting chairman after Necas quit his other job, as party leader.

Miroslava Nemcova, lower house speaker and Civic Democrat vice-chairwoman, said she believed the coalition could cobble together 101 votes in parliament, which would give it a clear majority.

But for that plan to work, they need the consent of Zeman. He has only limited powers under the constitution, but they include the sole right to appoint the prime minister.

A former prime minister himself and a leftist opponent of the Necas government, Zeman is likely to bring his own political agenda to the negotiations with the parties.

"It is possible he will push his people; that is politics," said political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova.

The European Union member country needs a stable government in place, among other things, to complete its biggest-ever public procurement tender.

The tender is to build two new nuclear reactors at the Temelin plant in the south of the country, estimated to cost $10-15 billion. A consortium including Russia's Atomstroyexport is competing against Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse.

Whoever takes over from Necas will also face the task of lifting the country out of a recession caused by the euro zone debt crisis and the outgoing government's focus on bringing down the budget deficit.

If repeated attempts to form a new cabinet fail, or if coalition and opposition parties agree to dissolve parliament, an early election would be held, possibly in the autumn.

A lawyer for Nagyova, who is in custody, says she denies some of the allegations against her, while on others she argues that she acted in good faith.