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Czech progress towards caretaker government

For two political blocs that agreed on almost nothing over the past two years – except the annual budget, which they're obliged to under the constitution — talks between the Czech Republic's largest right-wing and left-wing parties on forming a caretaker government have progressed rapidly since the government collapsed two-and-a-half weeks ago.

Some experts had feared weeks of political gridlock as the two sides struggled to reach agreement on the composition of the temporary government. So far, that has not been the case.

At the behest of the two main political powers in parliament, President Vaclav Klaus formally appointed an interim candidate for prime minister on Thursday. The right-wing Civic Democrats and the left-wing Social Democrats agreed that Jan Fischer, who heads the state's statistical office, would become prime minister in a caretaker government until early elections are held in October.

If approved by parliament, Fischer's cabinet will be seated on May 9. The political parties agreed that each side would propose candidates for half of the 16 cabinet seats, although Fischer — who appearance-wise, at least, looks straight out of central casting for the part of bland bureaucrat — says he wants to appoint his own cabinet members. But however it is being done, it appears that it is being done quickly. Local press reports say 11 of the 16 seats have already been filled.

But until things are ratified everything is subject to change. The selection trend seems to be going towards deputy ministers or other opposition counterparts. The initial consensus seems to be that these picks will be technically competent, which, frankly, is about all you can ask for in a caretaker government. No matter how skilled a politician is appointed if s/he isn't backed by a political mandate that there isn't much that can be done to initiate and advance policies. And that is how it should be, because who wants a government — operating without a public mandate — to try and remake the world. No, their task is simply to steer the ship right until elections can be held.

Fischer is not well known here among the general public, and so enthusiasm for him is lukewarm. Jan Kohout is the current pick for foreign minister. Kohout is a former ambassador to the EU and has significant experience in the foreign ministry. He also briefly flirted with a bid for Czech president two years ago. He comes from the left side of the political spectrum.

Fischer says his main priority will be to successfully carry out the remaining term of the European Union presidency. The Czech's hold on the EU's rotating presidency will end on June 30, when Sweden takes over.