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Czech PM toppled by vote of no confidence

CZECH Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's minority center-right government lost a vote of confidence on Tuesday and will probably leave office after the country's term as European Union president finishes in June.

Topolanek said he was ready to resign, although the opposition Social Democrats said his government could stay on until Prague hands over the EU's six-month rotating presidency to Sweden.

"At the moment this situation has no effect on the role of the President of the European Council," Topolanek said in a statement issued by the EU Presidency.

It was the third government collapse in eastern Europe this year after the leaders of Latvia and Hungary stepped down when their economies were hit by the global economic crisis, although Topolanek's defeat was more to do with domestic wrangling.

The Czech Republic has been less affected than some of its eastern European peers by the financial crisis, and despite the political turmoil the currency - the koruna - has held broadly steady after recovering from a drop earlier this year. The koruna dipped 0.7 percent to 27.17 to the euro (20.17 to US$1) after the vote.

The opposition has blamed the government for economic mismanagement and criticized reforms including a flat income tax, fees for doctor visits and budget cuts.

Former prime minister and current Chairman of the Social Democrats Jiri Paroubek said a government of non-partisan experts could be formed in the summer to lead the country to early polls in the autumn or next spring.

Regular polls are due in mid-2010.

Topolanek said early polls should be held in the summer if there was no agreement on a new government. He said he wanted a fresh chance to form a new cabinet and would not support one of experts.

The next step is now up to President Vaclav Klaus, who has an indefinite period to nominate a new government.


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