PRAGUE The new Czech prime minister picked ministers for his cabinet on Thursday who are certain to widen a rift between parliament and the executive that could cripple policymaking for months.
Jiri Rusnok was appointed on Tuesday by the leftist president, Milos Zeman, to form a technocrat cabinet despite protests from both the outgoing center-right coalition and the opposition Social Democrats.
Two of his first three cabinet nominations are seen as close to Zeman, playing into the parties' criticism that the newly elected president is making a power grab.
The Czech Republic needs a new cabinet after center-right leader Petr Necas resigned last week when his close aide was charged with illegal spying and bribery.
Rusnok, a long-time Zeman ally and finance minister in his cabinet in 2001-2002, has chosen former Social Democrat official Martin Pecina and ex-chief prosecutor Marie Benesova, a current Social Democrat, to head the interior and justice ministries.
The Social Democrats said Rusnok's choices were close to Zeman's own leftist party, the 'People's Rights Party - the Zemanites' (SPOZ), which is not represented in parliament.
"We will ask Social Democrat members who take part in Jiri Rusnok's government to leave the party," the news agency CTK quoted party chief Bohuslav Sobotka as saying.
Benesova, who is an adviser to Zeman, told the news website www.aktualne.cz she had nothing to be ashamed of.
"EXPERTISE NOT POLITICS"
Zeman quit the Social Democrats years ago and is now honorary chairman of SPOZ. Pecina has not ruled out joining SPOZ.
Rusnok, who until his nomination was a pension fund director at the Czech branch of the Dutch bank ING, defended his approach, saying his focus was on expertise, not party affiliation.
"It will be a government of experts," he said in a television interview. "Given my (political) anchoring, which is historically known, it will probably not be any kind of ultra-conservative government. But it will not be a political cabinet, it will not take on fundamental issues."
The conservative TOP09 party, a member of the outgoing coalition, has repeatedly said Rusnok's cabinet will not survive a vote of confidence, which is expected within about six weeks.
"The government will not have a single deputy in the lower house," TOP09 official Petr Gazdik said.
But under the constitution, Rusnok can rule for months if Zeman drags out the process of replacing him.
The Social Democrats lead opinion polls and want parliament to dissolve itself and force an early election, possibly in September, before the scheduled election next May.
But the center-right coalition says it can muster a working majority in parliament with the help of independents, and is demanding that Zeman appoint its candidate as the next prime minister if and when Rusnok's government loses a vote of confidence.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)