>Czech politics: Topolánek not seeking PM’s post, perhaps also bowing out as ODS leader

>In Prague the political plot thickens. Mayor of Prague Pavel Bém, a close political associate of Miroslav Topolánek whose minority Civic Democrat government predictably failed to win a vote of confidence last week, revealed on TV today that Topolánek will not be seeking the post of PM if entrusted a second time with forming a government by President Klaus. Instead, the party has three suitable (unnamed) independent candidates for PM.

Presidential secretary Ladislav Jakl  has let it be known that Klaus sees the country as heading for early elections, an increasingly widely held view that Bém’s comments reinforce suggesting some form of caretaker government lasting 1-2 years. However, the Social Democrats, themselves dying to have go at forming a government, are unlikely to back any such attempt. The third and constitutionally allowed attempt at government formation is in the gift not on Klaus, but of the (Social Democrat) speaker of the lower house and the Czech Communists have indicated their willingness to back a minority Social Democrat government (although their expectations of nominated some independent ministers or negotiating some kind about controlling key posts in parliament seem exaggerated)

Czech newspapers such as LN (5 October) have already suggested that the embattled and not very politically successful could be bowing out as ODS leader and this merely adds to  that impression. Topolánek’s government will not only be one of the shortest in Czech history, but, I think, also the only one to lose a confidence vote and it is hard not to see him as a political loser, especially when one thinks how ODS seemed set to roar into power in 2004-5.

Speculation is already starting as to who might replace him at the next ODS congress due at the end of the year – Bém is a potential candidate as is the widely respected governor of the Moravian-Silesia region Evžen Tošenovský, who declared candidacy against Klaus in 2002 helped persuade VK to step down but led to a wave of vituperation from Klaus loyalists promoting him to withdraw from the contest. Outgoing Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas, who notes the unseemly haste with which other ODS politicians are jostling for the four deputy chairpersonships (Právo, 7 October 2006), is potentially a candidate, as may be the ambitious eurosceptic head of ODS’s MEPs Jan Zahradil. Both came close to beating Topolánek in 2002 in a three way split of delegate votes. However although both men are only in their forties, ideological bulldogs like Zahradil and Nečas may be already be Yesterday’s Men. The hands on experience and perceived pragmatism of regional bosses like Bém and Tošenovský seem what is in demand in today’s Civic Democratic Party.

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