Czech PM faces showdown as coalition partners waver

PRAGUE Sun Jun 16, 2013 12:25pm EDT

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Necas speaks during a press briefing at the Royal Castle in Warsaw June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Andrews

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Necas speaks during a press briefing at the Royal Castle in Warsaw June 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Andrews

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Some members of the Czech Republic's governing coalition are considering ditching Prime Minister Petr Necas after his closest aide was charged with bribery and ordering illegal surveillance, his deputy said on Sunday.

Necas faces a showdown with his coalition partners later on Sunday when they meet for talks following the arrest of his long-standing personal assistant Jana Nagyova.

If Necas is forced to step down, the government has to quit according to the constitution, meaning a period of instability in the European Union member of 10.5 million people. Prolonged horse-trading would be likely between the coalition, opposition and the president over how to form a new government.

Necas has been under pressure to resign since the biggest police operation against corruption in two decades led to charges against Nagyova and seven other suspects. Necas has insisted he has done nothing wrong and will not quit.

"Anyone who has a bit of political tact of course feels that the position of Petr Necas is extremely complicated, extremely tough, not only for him but for the entire cabinet," said Karolina Peake, head of the small LIDEM party, a junior partner in the coalition.

Asked on Czech television if the coalition could continue until next year's scheduled election under a different prime minister, Peake, also a deputy prime minister, said: "It is one of the options."

Necas, speaking to reporters during a visit to Poland, said: "We will have discussions. Negotiations are the essence of politics and it is also the essence of politics that no position is for life."

The three coalition party leaders were due to meet at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT), as soon as Necas arrives back from Poland.

The centre-left opposition Social Democrats have called a vote of no confidence for Tuesday. Necas can survive only if both junior coalition partners, LIDEM and the conservative TOP09, back him. If Necas quits or loses the confidence vote, the entire cabinet will fall automatically.

Recreating the coalition could be tough. Neither the coalition, nor the opposition can command a stable majority in parliament. Any government would depend on the votes of a handful of independents, whose loyalty shifts frequently.

The uncertainty strengthens the hand of leftist president Milos Zeman, who has the right to appoint a new prime minister.

The Social Democrats want a cross-party agreement to call an early election, which opinion polls show they would win.

SURVEILLANCE AND BRIBES

Police said they became interested in Nagyova and the other suspects after unearthing leads during a broader investigation into corruption in the public sphere.

Last week about 400 police officers stormed government offices, bank safe deposits and other locations, conducted 31 house searches and seized at least $6 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold. They did not say who it belonged to.

Czechs have been increasingly irritated by media reports of kickbacks and tainted deals in the public sector and the inability of the police and justice to punish the perpetrators.

Under Necas's watch, newly appointed prosecutors were given a free hand to go after corruption cases. Some mid-level politicians and state officials have been sentenced for bribery it the past two years, an improvement in law enforcement.

The scandal threatening Necas has both political and personal elements.

Nagyova, head of Necas's office and his close confidante since 2006, was charged with illegally ordering the military intelligence service to conduct surveillance on Necas's wife, Radka, according to lawyers for two other defendants in the case. Necas said on Saturday he had no idea of the surveillance, and apologized to those who were supposedly affected.

Nagyova's lawyer said she rejected some of the charges, while in relation to other charges argued she had acted in good faith.

(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague and Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Editing by Michael Kahn and Janet Lawrence)

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