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Czech president appoints technocrat government led by ally

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Czech President Milos Zeman on Wednesday appointed a technocrat government led by his long-time leftist ally Jiri Rusnok in a controversial bid to end a political crisis sparked by a bribery and spy scandal.

Zeman, the Czech Republic's first directly elected head of state, chose the 52-year-old economist last month to replace Petr Necas, a right-wing rival toppled amid the country's longest ever recession.

"I would like to assure you we'll do our best to ... serve the citizens of our country as best we can," Rusnok told Zeman after the ministers were appointed.

But with parliamentary parties of all stripes feeling snubbed, Rusnok -- who is not a legislator -- is unlikely to win a confidence vote that must be held within 30 days of the appointment, which requires backing from a simple majority of lawmakers present.

The new cabinet includes former premier Jan Fischer as the finance minister and deputy premier. The one-time head of the national statistics office was an also-ran in January's presidential election.

He also led a caretaker non-partisan cabinet in 2009-10 after a right-wing government was toppled midway through the Czech presidency of the EU.

Jan Kohout, tapped as foreign minister, held the same post in Fischer's cabinet, while Defence Minister Vlastimil Picek, an army general, is the only member of the outgoing cabinet to keep his job.

The outgoing centre-right coalition, which commands a 101-vote majority in the 200-seat parliament, has insisted on its own prime minister with a cabinet built along the lines of the Necas administration.

"I reject the government as a whole because it bypassed the parliament and has been standing in opposition to it," parliament speaker Miroslava Nemcova, the outgoing coalition's candidate for premier, said Wednesday.

"I can of course imagine the government will pass, but I don't think it's likely right now," Pavel Saradin, a political analyst at the country's Palacky University Olomouc, told AFP.

But even without a parliamentary go-ahead, the cabinet could govern until the next regularly scheduled elections in May 2014 thanks to a constitutional loophole allowing Zeman to delay designating a new premier.

"Milos Zeman is ... bolstering the president's position," said Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague.

"Without tweaking the constitution, he has managed to shift the balance of power from the parliament and government to the president," he told AFP.

Analysts also suggest Zeman wants to give his own left-wing SPOZ party -- competing with the Social Democrats and Communists -- more time to garner enough support to enter parliament.

Lawmakers will on July 17 debate a call by the leftist Social Democrats for parliament to be dissolved, Nemcova said Wednesday, but the party is unlikely to scramble the three-fifths majority needed to dissolve the chamber and thus prompt snap elections.

"I see elections next year as the most likely scenario as it benefits all players except the Social Democrats," tipped by pollsters to win any elections now, Saradin said.

The turmoil has struck as the EU member is mired in its longest recession yet, lasting 18 months and with a 0.5 percent contraction forecast for this year.

Heavily dependent on car exports to EU powerhouse Germany, the nation of 10.5 million people has been hit hard by the slump in demand amid the eurozone debt crisis.

On Monday, prosecutors asked parliament to strip Necas of immunity for his role in the bribery scandal that he himself played down as political horse-trading, insisting that "political deals cannot be considered a crime".

Necas stepped down last month after his chief of staff Jana Nagyova, allegedly also his lover, was indicted for abuse of power and bribery along with seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers.

Prosecutors believe Nagyova had military spies tail Necas's wife of 25 years, whom he is divorcing, and that she offered lucrative posts to three rebel lawmakers from Necas's own party in exchange for their resignation.

The Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split from Slovakia -- a legacy of four decades of totalitarian communist rule.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130710/czech-president-appoints-technocrat-government-led-ally-1