Cablegate: Agreement On Speaker of Czech Parliament Paves Way

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1. (U) SUMMARY. More than 10 weeks after the deadlocked June
2-3 general election, the five parties in the Czech
Parliament have agreed on a Speaker and five Deputy Speakers,
allowing the new parliament to formally begin work, and
removing one of the key issues that has blocked progress
toward the formation of the next government. Current Prime
Minister Jiri Paroubek (CSSD) is expected to hand in his
resignation on Wednesday, August 16, but will continue to
rule until his likely successor, Mirek Topolanek (ODS),
finishes putting together a cabinet and a program declaration
that have the support of enough parliamentarians to win a
vote of confidence. Paroubek and CSSD are already making
significant demands on both personnel and policy questions,
which could prolong the next stage, and which make it unclear
whether Topolanek will even succeed in creating a minority
ODS government. END SUMMARY

2.(U) On Monday, August 14, the 200-seat parliament, which is
evenly split between the Social Democrats (CSSD) and the
Communists (KSCM) with 100 seats on the left, and the Civic
Democrats (ODS), the Christian Democrats and the Greens (SZ)
with 100 seats on the right, elected Miloslav Vlcek (CSSD)
temporary Speaker of the Parliament. He received 174 votes.
If Topolanek succeeds in forming a minority ODS government
and passes the vote of confidence, Vlcek will resign and
Paroubek will become Speaker. If Paroubek is given the
second attempt to form a government, and succeeds, Vlcek will
resign in favor of an ODS candidate. If the second attempt to
form a government also fails, Vlcek will resign before the
third attempt, for which the Speaker gets to select the Prime
Minister designate. Vlcek, 45, was a member of the Communist
Party in the 1980's, and has more recently been the chairman
of parliament's budget committee and a member of the board of
the state-run debt consolidation agency, which has been
troubled by financial scandal. He is more of a politician
than an ideologue.

3. (SBU) Parliament also elected five Deputy Chairs,
including the previous Speaker Lubomir Zaoralek (CSSD),
Miroslava Nemcova and Lucie Talmanova (ODS), Jan Kasal
(KDU-CSL) and Vojtech Filip (KSCM). It is perhaps significant
that just a day before the election in parliament, the heads
of the parliamentary clubs for ODS, KDU-CSL, and the Greens
all publicly stated their opposition to Filip's candidacy.
The fact that he was elected with 101 votes in a secret
ballot means that at least one parliamentarian from these
parties supported Filip, who is the Chairman of the Communist
Party. Some observers are speculating that if the Chairman
of the Communist Party can get 101 votes, then a
left-of-center government tacitly supported by the Communists
could probably also get 101 votes, the minimum required in a
vote of confidence, thereby sustaining Paroubek's hopes that
he will get a chance to form a government. However, since
the vote was secret and part of a larger package that had
been painstakingly negotiated, it could also be that an ODS
parliamentarian voted for Filip in order to prevent another
logjam and to move the process forward, and not out of
tolerance for the Communist Party.

4. (U) Parliament formally concluded its constituent assembly
on August 15 with an agreement on committee structures and
numbers. Individual assignments will be discussed on
Tuesday, August 29. Both CSSD and ODS want the chairs of the
key committees, such as Budget, Security, Defense, Social
Policies and Health. In what could be a sign of preparations
for compromises, several key committees have been split,
opening up the way for both parties to get their share. The
previous parliament had a Defense and Security Committee.
The next parliament will have a Defense Committee focusing on
military affairs and a Security Committee looking into police
and law enforcement. Similarly, the Social Policy and
Health Committee has been split into two committees, making
it possible for one of the two major parties to get the
Chairmanship of the Health Committee, and another of Social
Policy. The third split involves the previous Committee on
Environment and Regional Affairs, possibly opening up more
spaces for smaller parties such as the Greens and Christian

5. (U) The end of the constituent assembly means the
previous government can now hand in its resignation, a move
that CSSD Deputy Chair and current Labor Minister Zdenek
Skromach says will take place at the regular Wednesday
session of government on August 16. Nevertheless, Topolanek
still has several battles ahead of him, some of which could
affect U.S. interests. Paroubek wants a say on every cabinet
appointment, and on several key policy issues for which ODS

PRAGUE 00000964 002.2 OF 002

and CSSD have considerably different positions. Paroubek has
already expressed reservations about Topolanek's choice of
foreign minister, Alexandr (Sasha) Vondra, as being too
pro-American. Paroubek has also publicly insisted that the
issue of an American missile defense facility, which
Topolanek supports, be subjected to a popular referendum.
Paroubek demands that the government program contains a
commitment to a referendum.

6. COMMENT. (SBU) The progress in parliament is significant
for two reasons. First of all it allows Parliament to
actually get to work and begin the considering legislation.
Second, it is the first tangible sign of progress in the 10
weeks since the deadlocked election. However, Topolanek's
plan for a minority ODS government, arguably the best outcome
for U.S. - Czech relations, has a ways to go before it
becomes a reality. Paroubek has already blocked Topolanek's
first attempt, a plan for a three-party center-right
coalition. Paroubek is seeking the right to vet every
cabinet appointment in Topolanek's government, a stance that
the Christian Democrats and the Greens say would prevent them
from supporting a minority ODS government. Paroubek also
wants a say on many key issues. There is broad expectation
that Paroubek's goal is to stay on as Prime Minister, and is
angling to be the one that President Klaus turns to if the
first attempt to form a government fails. This means
Paroubek has no incentive to cooperate with Topolanek any
more than is necessary to keep the process moving forwards
towards the first vote of confidence. The vote on the
Speaker has finally broken the logjam and allowed the process
to move forward, but we are still several steps away from
seeing a lasting government emerge. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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