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Czech government collapses in vote of no confidence

The Czech government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, collapsed today when four coalition MPs joined the opposition in voting "no-confidence" in the government.

For 26 months the three-party governing coalition lived on a knife's edge with either a razor-thin majority in parliament, or otherwise cobbling together the necessary votes from a handful of independent MPs in order to advance its agenda. But today Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's wheeling-and-dealing couldn't save him.

The Civic Democratic Party has led the government despite deep fissures within the party. Nothing divided them more than a European Union reform plan known as the Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Republic is the only one of the EU's 27-member states not to have voted on the treaty. And it was something of an embarrassment that the country holding the EU presidency had not managed to ratify it.

The Green Party — always an odd fit in this right-of-center government — has been deeply divided over a number of issues, but none more so than U.S. plans for a missile defense base.

The strains in the two parties finally reached their boiling point today, and the government fell.

The coalition's demise will kick off an period of intense political horse trading, as both the prime minister and his counterpart — Social Democratic Party Chairman Jiri Paroubek — maneuver for politcal advantage.

Topolanek would like to have early parliamentary elections in June, while Paroubek wants elections in the fall. President Vaclav Klaus will have considerable influence over the political maneuvering, which could also lead to an apolitical caretaker government — either until early elections are held, or until the current mandate expires in June 2010.

The view from Brussels