Czech president signals may appoint technocrat PM on Tuesday

PRAGUE Mon Jun 24, 2013 9:46am EDT

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas (R) tenders his resignation to President Milos Zeman at the Prague Castle June 17, 2013. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas (R) tenders his resignation to President Milos Zeman at the Prague Castle June 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/David W Cerny

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman confirmed on Monday he would announce the name of a new prime minister on Tuesday and gave strong hints he would opt for a technocrat rather than a political nominee, a move that may spark an early election.

Petr Necas resigned a week ago following bribery and illegal spying charges against his closest aide. As head of state Zeman, a leftist, has the sole right to appoint a new prime minister.

The ruling centre-right coalition has proposed forming a new cabinet. But Zeman said on Sunday he was considering a technocrat cabinet instead to make good on his pre-election pledges to fight the centre-right administration.

On Monday, Zeman gave further indications that he would take that path. Asked if an expert government should include various representatives from a platform for dialogue between employers and trade unions, he said:

"Under the constitution, the prime minister chooses his colleagues, and I am convinced that an expert government should directly or indirectly include both sides of the social spectrum. What form this will take will depend on the new prime minister."

Zeman declined to comment on media speculation that former Social Democrat finance minister Jiri Rusnok was a candidate.

Asked whether an expert cabinet should raise the minimum wage, a topic of discussion with the unions on Monday, he said: "A cabinet of experts, however long its mandate is...can resolve the question of the minimum wage."

EARLY ELECTION

The main political parties, including the opposition centre-left Social Democrats who lead opinion polls, have made clear they will not back in a vote of confidence a cabinet forced upon them by Zeman, which raises the prospect of an early election.

An election would be called if 120 out of the 200 lower house deputies supported dissolving parliament.

The Social Democrats and the far-left Communists have already supported the plan as well as a small opposition party, Public Affairs. The conservative TOP09, a member of the ruling coalition, has said it would add its votes to push for an election if Zeman appointed his preferred candidate.

"I understand from the statements made ... so far that there is a big chance to reach an agreement with TOP09 on having an early election," Social Democrat official Jeronym Tejc said.

An early election could be held in September, ahead of the regular vote planned for May 2014.

A cabinet appointed by Zeman could govern until the election - early or regular - in a caretaker capacity, even if it fails to win a vote of confidence.

The new cabinet will have to prepare the budget for next year, which must be submitted to parliament by the end of September. It may also have a say in an ongoing process to pick the winner of a tender to build a $10 billion-$15 billion nuclear power plant at Temelin, in the south of the country.

In the scandal that toppled Necas, police have charged eight people including the prime minister's closest aide Jana Nagyova. Some are accused of bribery and some with illegal spying on people including Necas's wife.

Nagyova is in custody charged with ordering illegal spying. Prosecutors also accuse her of offering bribes, in the form of posts at state companies, to three parliamentary deputies last year in exchange for abandoning a rebellion against Necas. A lawyer for Nagyova said she had acted in good faith.

(Additional reporting by Jana Mlcochova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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