Czech gov't collapses over handling of economic crisis

Loses parliamentary no-confidence vote just days before planned visit by Obama.

Czech PM Mirek Topolanek 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Czech PM Mirek Topolanek 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Czech government collapsed Tuesday after losing a parliamentary no-confidence vote over its handling of the economic crisis. It was a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, coming just days before a planned visit by President Barack Obama and midway through the Czech Republic's six-month European Union presidency. The lower house of Parliament voted 101-96 to declare no confidence in the three-party coalition government, after four lawmakers broke rank with their parties and voted with the opposition. Three legislators were absent from the vote. It was the first time a government has been ousted by parliament since the country came to existence after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia. Topolanek said he could resign after his planned trip to Brussels on Wednesday. "I take the vote into account and will act according to the Constitution," he said. There has been no indication of whom President Vaclav Klaus might choose to form a new Cabinet. If three attempts to form a government fail, early elections must be called. "The government got what it deserved," said former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who leads the opposition Social Democratic party. Opposition lawmakers have become increasingly frustrated with Topolanek's administration as the effects of the global financial crisis hit the Eastern European country. Before the crisis, the Czech economy had been growing fast, but the country is expected to enter a recession this year. Annual industrial output fell 23.3 percent in January. The opposition said the government has acted too late and done too little - approving a stimulus package last month worth 70 billion koruna ($3.5 billion), including measures for investments in ecology and infrastructure along with tax cuts and loan guarantees. "It was not able to handle the affects of the economic crisis on the Czech economy," Paroubek said. But he added that he would not be against Topolanek's government staying in office until the end of the Czech term leading the EU presidency. The European Union executive said it had "full trust" that the Czech Republic would be able to continue its duties until its term in the presidency ends June 30. "It is for the Czech Republic's democratic process under the constitution to resolve the domestic political issues; the Commission is confident that this is done in a way which ensures the full functioning of the Council Presidency," The European Commission said in a statement. Topolanek's government took charge in January 2007, after months of difficult negotiations following the 2006 general elections that resulted in no clear winner. After Tuesday's vote, Topolanek said he believed the president might ask him again to form a government, as his party won the most votes in the 2006 vote. But he also has said he prefers holding elections early, rather than in June 2010 as scheduled.