President to meet party leaders on Friday

Czech political leaders were scrambling on Tuesday to find a new Prime Minister or face snap elections, after Petr Necas stepped down over a massive bribery and spying scandal.

President Milos Zeman was due to start talks with party leaders on the next step to solving the political crisis on Friday, while parties are expected to meet amongst themselves in the coming days.

Opinion polls show that the Mr. Zeman-allied leftwing Social Democrats would win a snap election hands down and sweep Mr. Necas’ Civic Democrats and their allies out of power.

Scandal

The massive graft scandal erupted on Thursday when 400 policemen raided the cabinet office, Defence Ministry, private villas and a bank in a dramatic swoop that turned up large stashes of illicit cash and gold.

Information uncovered during the raid led to the indictment on Friday of Mr. Necas’ chief of staff Jana Nagyova with bribery and complicity in the abuse of power.

Seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers were also charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Dubbed “Mr. Clean” for his high-profile anti-corruption drive, the scandal forced Mr. Necas to resign on Monday.

Czech media said on Tuesday Mr. Necas would likely also be indicted on charges of bribery and abuse of power, while Germany’s Berliner Zeitung skewered the “Czech Republic as a Banana Republic”.

Mr. Necas’ minority “coalition will definitely try to renew itself. If it fails, parties will start to negotiate early elections”, Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP. Before the scandal, Mr. Zeman had said he wanted general elections held together with an EU Parliament vote on May 24-25 next year to save taxpayers’ money.

Mr. Necas’ disgraced right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) have said they will choose a candidate for Prime Minister to lead a government — built along the current three-party coalition, also comprising the right-wing TOP 09 and centrist LIDEM parties.

Tipped as their favourite for the Premier’s job, ODS chairman Martin Kuba said on Monday the selection process “will take days”.

Czech media reported Mr. Kuba might meet the President on Tuesday, while LIDEM and the leftwing Social Democrat opposition were to each hold their own talks on the topic.

Under the constitution, the new government has to ask for a confidence vote in Parliament where Mr. Necas’s administration — in office since July 2010 — has lost its majority, relying for votes on former allies now sitting as independents.

Restart

Another option is the dissolution of Parliament and early elections, demanded by Czech dailies on Tuesday.

“The whole system has failed and we need a restart,” says the Hospodarske noviny business newspaper, adding “no good solutions are available”.

An EU member of 10.5 million people, the Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split with Slovakia — a legacy of four decades of totalitarian communist rule.

Last year, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked the Czech Republic as worse than Costa Rica and Rwanda.

Despite the turmoil, all sides — including the left-wing opposition — have agreed to ensure a smooth political transition to allow for the clean-up of devastating flood damage in the country. At least 12 people perished and around 19,000 were forced from their homes — AFP