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Czech government set to lose confidence vote


The Czech parliament met Wednesday for a confidence vote on the new technocrat government, which is unlikely to win but could still remain in power with a little help from its ally, the president.

Appointed by President Milos Zeman on July 10, the government of leftwing economist Jiri Rusnok replaced a centre-right coalition cabinet that was toppled by a bribery and spy scandal in June.

But the former coalition still dominates the 200-seat parliament in which Rusnok needs a simple majority of votes to win.

"It is a government consisting of non-partisan experts, which has done many useful things in the first phase of its activity, such as raising the minimum wage," Zeman told lawmakers, pleading for backing for the cabinet.

The vote on the cabinet -- which includes a former prosecutor and an ex-army general, plus managers and politicians close to Zeman -- will take place later Wednesday following a debate.

"Rusnok will hear 'no' 103 times," said a front-page splash in the business daily Hospodarske noviny on Wednesday, while the Pravo broadsheet said Rusnok was "poised for defeat".

The leftwing Social Democrats, the far-left Communists and the centrist Public Affairs have vowed to back the cabinet comprising Zeman's allies, but together they only have 91 votes.

"Someone may fall ill or fail to show up, so it's not absolutely certain, but it seems they'll fail," Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst at Prague's Charles University, told AFP.

Even if Rusnok fails, the 68-year-old Zeman, who won the country's first-ever direct presidential election in January, has a few aces up his sleeve that could keep his team in place.

The constitution allows the president to pick another prime minister but does not set any dates. This would give Zeman considerable room for manoeuvre.

"For the second attempt (to pick a premier), the president has three options, one of them being a cabinet governing without confidence," said Zeman's top secretary Vratislav Mynar.

That would mean Rusnok, 52, could continue as premier until the next scheduled election in May 2014, which the Social Democrats are tipped to win.

"Of course I will go for a second attempt if the Rusnok cabinet is not approved," Zeman told the parliament.

But pending a probe into the bribery and spy scandal that brought down the previous administration, "I assure you I will not make a second attempt within the several weeks" the probe will take, he added.

The former governing coalition meanwhile insists Zeman should name a centre-right cabinet.

Parliament speaker Miroslava Nemcova from the Civic Democrats, the previous coalition's candidate for premier, has repeatedly said her side has 101 votes in the chamber.

If Rusnok loses the vote, "we will introduce a government we would like to have... one that leans on a parliamentary majority," Karel Schwarzenberg, head of the rightwing TOP 09 party, said Tuesday.

But Mlejnek was sceptical, saying Zeman would not give the toppled coalition a chance to form a government, and that the attempt to do so "may last until the regular elections".

Zeman himself said such a cabinet would be a copy of the previous one which he dubbed "catastrophic".

Rusnok replaced right-wing premier Petr Necas, who stepped down over a scandal that saw his chief-of-staff and lover Jana Nagyova charged with bribery and abuse of power.

The EU member, which has a population of 10.5 million people, has been plagued by recession for a year and a half.

But analysts say the turmoil has had no impact on central Europe's third largest economy, which is heavily dependent on car production and exports, and which the central bank predicts will shrink by 1.5 percent this year.