Czech government may cling to majority

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Prague - The Czech government seemed to have secured the votes needed for a parliamentary majority that will paper over a split in the ruling coalition before Monday's deadline set by the prime minister to avoid an early election, politicians said.

Prime Minister Petr Necas kicked out the smallest of the three parties in his centre-right coalition, Public Affairs, due to strained relations with one of its main leaders, who was convicted of corruption.

But Necas is counting on a rebel faction that has peeled off from Public Affairs to gather at least the 10 deputies he said he needed to support the cabinet, giving it a safe majority. He said he would seek early polls in June if he fails.

On Monday, the leader of the rebel faction, Karolina Peake, told Reuters she had the 10 votes that would give the government at least 102 seats in the 200-member lower house.

“A safe support for the government will be secured,” Peake said in a statement.

However, she said two of those 10 deputies had not signed up formally to a new parliamentary faction led by Peake - a firm commitment which Necas has sought.

It was up to the prime minister, who was expected to meet Peake as well as his party leadership later on Monday, to say if the support was sufficient or if he would seek an early election.

Necas has sought to avoid a situation, common in Czech politics, when weak majority governments face frequent demands from individual deputies to change proposed legislation in their favour.

Some 90,000 protesters marched through Prague on Saturday calling for the end of the government - sending a clear message to those lawmakers trying to make up the numbers in parliament to avoid an election the coalition would be unlikely to win.

The centre-right cabinet has been increasingly unpopular due to its strict adherence to plans to cut the budget deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product next year by tax hikes and spending cuts, as well as due to a string of graft scandals.

The fall of the government would throw the savings plans into doubt, as the opposition Social Democrats who hold a nearly 20 point lead in opinion polls have pledged to repeal some of the austerity steps.

One of Peake's followers, deputy Martin Vacek, said the 10 deputies backing her signed a programme document supporting the cabinet's agenda.

“We are ready to contribute to our coalition partners' efforts to push through savings measures for the benefit of the Czech Republic,” Vacek told Czech Television.

Analysts said the government was likely to survive, given early polls were undesirable for all the ruling parties.

“I believe the government parties do not have the will for an early election,” commentator Jindrich Sidlo said on Czech Television. “Many (politicians) are facing the end of their careers, and the parties are facing big election losses.”

The crown currency dropped 0.3 percent versus the euro on Monday to a two-month low, in part due to uncertainty over the cabinet's future.

Necas has said he wanted to resolve the situation ahead of a parliamentary session due to start on Tuesday, saying that calling a new election in June would require quick action.

But under the constitution, he has more time. The parliament can vote any time to dissolve itself, allowing for a June vote.

The main reason Necas wanted Public Affairs out is Vit Barta, a leading light of the party. He was given a suspended 18-month sentence this month for bribing his party colleagues to secure their loyalty.

Barta however has a grip over a large chunk of the party, which entered parliament in 2010 on a wave of hope it would help to clean up rampant corruption. But it has instead become the source of instability and a string of scandals itself.

The next election is due in mid-2014. An opinion poll last week showed the centre-left Social Democrats would win 37 percent of the vote, followed by the far-left Communists and Necas's Civic Democrats only in third place with 17.5 percent. Public Affairs would not win any seats. - Reuters


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