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Czech president appoints economic advisor as new PM

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Czech President Milos Zeman on Tuesday appointed his economic advisor Jiri Rusnok as the new prime minister after an unprecedented corruption scandal toppled the right-wing predecessor.

The move immediately drew fire from snubbed political leaders, who signalled Rusnok's cabinet would not pass a confidence vote in parliament.

"Dear prime minister, thank you for having accepted my offer to become the premier at this very difficult time," Zeman said after Rusnok was sworn in as head of what is being billed as a technocratic government.

The grey-haired Rusnok, 52, was finance minister in Zeman's leftist government in 2001-2002 and became his economic advisor after his landslide election as president in January.

The country that produced respected Velvet Revolution icon Vaclav Havel is now wallowing in political turmoil as it battles through its longest-ever recession of six straight quarters.

In a scandal unheard of even in this graft-prone country, the centre-right government of Petr Necas was forced to step down last week after his chief of staff and alleged lover was indicted for abuse of power and bribery.

Rusnok said he would "put together the (new) cabinet in two weeks and hopefully have it appointed by that time too".

But political opponents leapt quickly onto the attack, with influential rightwinger Miroslav Kalousek, the outgoing finance minister, saying Rusnok had "no chance of winning a confidence vote in parliament."

Three outgoing centre-right coalition parties say they have the 101 seats needed in the 200-member lower house of parliament to approve a government led by rightwing speaker of parliament Miroslava Nemcova.

"We are wasting time, losing momentum. This is a move dead on arrival," Nemcova said of Zeman's decision to choose Rusnok.

Prague nurse Hana Zelenakova agrees, echoing 55 percent of Czechs who want a snap election according to an opinion poll published last week.

"I would personally welcome early elections," she told AFP Tuesday insisting Zeman's choice lacked legitimacy.

The next regularly scheduled general vote is in May 2014.

But the president appeared confident Tuesday that even if right and leftwing parties join forces for the 120 votes needed to trigger snap elections, a Rusnok administration could hang on long enough to draft the 2014 budget.

"If parliament is dissolved, if the opponent parties team up, I suppose Prime Minister Rusnok's government will rule till around the end of September. The budget draft needs to be ready by that time," he said.

Under the constitution a snap election must be held within 60 days after parliament's dissolution.

But Zeman could delay early polls, since it is the president who decides on the dissolution.

"He may put off the decision under various pretexts," political analyst Jiri Pehe told AFP, also warning that with a Rusnok administration Zeman "will gain control over the government, at least temporarily".

He added Rusnok's government may decide on the construction of two new units at the Temelin nuclear power station, a contract worth an estimated 200 to 300 billion koruna (eight to 12 billion euros, $10 to 15 billion). The contract winner is to be announced this autumn.

An EU member of 10.5 million people, the Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split with Slovakia -- a legacy of four decades of totalitarian communist rule.

The latest crisis erupted when Necas's chief of staff Jana Nagyova was arrested in a June 13 police swoop that included the cabinet office.

Nagyova was charged along with seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers.

Prosecutors also believe she had military spies tail Necas's wife of 25 years. The former prime minister announced his divorce two days before the swoop.

The Czech Republic has previously had two interim governments, the 1998 Havel-appointed administration of Josef Tosovsky and another one lasting a year after a cabinet fell midway through its EU presidency in March 2009.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130625/czech-president-appoints-economic-advisor-new-pm-0