Czech government survives fifth no-confidence vote

Friday January 18 2013


The Czech government on Thursday survived a fifth no-confidence vote in less than three years, launched by the left-wing opposition in protest against a sweeping presidential amnesty endorsed by Prime Minister Petr Necas.

The opposition needed at least 101 votes in the 200-seat parliament to bring down Necas' three-party coalition, but it scrambled only 92 after a debate lasting almost ten hours.

Previous no-confidence motions launched by the opposition against Necas' wobbly, austerity-oriented administration focused mostly on graft allegations and unpopular spending cuts.

His administration has also survived three confidence motions tabled by the premier himself.

Its last test came in November, when it survived a confidence vote when rebels within Necas' own party had threatened to bring him down over a tax bill.

The amnesty decreed by outgoing President Vaclav Klaus on January 1 has seen more than 6,300 prisoners freed, including some held in major fraud cases.

The unprecedented move has sparked outrage among both the opposition and voters in this ex-communist European Union and NATO member of 10.5 million people.

Bohuslav Sobotka, chairman of the Social Democrats who launched the motion, said on Thursday the amnesty was "most unfortunate."

"It casts doubts on the basic principles of the rule of law," Sobotka said, adding the amnesty aroused suspicions that it was "tailor-made" for those prosecuted for serious economic crimes.

But Necas insisted the amnesty was a mere pretext for the no-confidence vote.

"This is not an amnesty of the Czech government," he said, adding the opposition had already wanted to topple the government in December, before the amnesty was decreed.

The motion came ahead of the second round of presidential polls, due January 25-26, pitting the ex-Communist former prime minister Milos Zeman against conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Schwarzenberg said on Thursday he was "alarmed" by the extent of the amnesty and "very upset" by the prime minister's signature which he learnt about only when Klaus mentioned the amnesty in his New Year speech.

The minister, a 75-year-old aristocrat, then left the chamber in protest. Analysts in Prague believe a Schwarzenberg election victory could benefit Necas, while his defeat might seal the prime minister's fate.

"Schwarzenberg's victory would reinforce the government, while if he wins, Zeman could try to destroy it and provoke early elections," Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst from Prague's Charles University, said Wednesday.

Yet to join the eurozone, the Czech Republic has been mired in recession for a year, with its central bank predicting moderate 0.2-percent economic growth in 2013. Joblessness stood at 9.4 percent in December.