Czech PM completes shuffle of weakened cabinet

PRAGUE Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:28am EST

PRAGUE Dec 11 (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas tapped allies to take over the defence and transport ministries on Tuesday, completing a cabinet shuffle after resignations from his fragile government.

After losing its majority last month, his centre-right coalition is at its weakest point since coming to power more than two years ago, and it still faces a tight vote this month on tax hikes that threaten to bring it down.

With the appointments, Necas went to allies that have helped his government survive crucial votes already this year.

The centre-right leader nominated Karolina Peake, a deputy prime minister and head of the smallest ruling party, to run the Defence Ministry. Zbynek Stanjura, the caucus head for Necas's Civic Democrat party, will run the Transport Ministry.

Necas also appointed Petr Mlsna to lead the legislative council as a minister without portfolio.

Stanjura replaces Pavel Dobes, who had been backed by Peake's Liberal Democrat party before resigning for failing to get a new car registration system functioning smoothly.

Peake will step in for Alexandr Vondra, who was the last original Civic Democrat minister to quit since Necas's government took power two and a half years ago.

Necas's three-party ruling coalition won a record parliamentary majority in 2010 elections but has been on the brink of collapse twice this year.

With 98 out of 200 seats in the lower house, the government must rely on independent deputies, making it vulnerable to any confidence votes called by the opposition leftist Social Democrats, who hold a commanding lead in the polls.

In April, Peake helped Necas overcome a confidence vote when she broke away from an original coalition member, the Public Affairs party. The party imploded that month after Necas kicked it out of the government following a corruption scandal.

Peake then led a splinter group and founded a new party to secure Necas a majority of votes in the lower house.

Last month, Necas faced a rebellion in his own party due to objections to tax rises that he argued were needed to cut the 2012 budget deficit to within EU-mandated limits.

Stanjura took part in negotiations with the rebel deputies, who eventually dropped their opposition. This allowed Necas to survive a confidence vote attached to the tax bill.

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