An agreement between the ruling coalition parties on forming a new government collapsed only hours after being clinched on Thursday, dashing hopes of ending the protracted political crisis in the Czech Republic. The leadership of the strongest coalition party, the Social Democrats, unexpectedly rejected the deal made by their own top bosses. This setback has brought negotiations back to square one, and further undermined the position of the Gross government.
On hearing the news, two more ministers handed in their resignation, bringing the number of ministers who have left what looks increasingly like a sinking ship to seven. Daniela Lazarova joins me now in the studio. Daniela, just 24 hours ago it seemed that the Czech Republic had a new Cabinet, a Cabinet that the President was ready to approve, what happened?
Well, as you said David, the news was totally unexpected, mainly because you naturally assume that the party leaders who made the deal would have acted after consulting their parties. Apparently the Social Democrat leaders overstepped the mandate given by their party, which was just not prepared to go along with the deal. Political analyst Vaclav Zak believes it was an emotional and very short-sighted decision, made because the ruling party felt it had been subjugated or degraded by its smaller coalition partner, the Christian Democrats:
"The concessions made by the Social Democratic Party bosses during the eight hour talks were seen as being excessively generous by the party leadership. Rank and file members were deeply disturbed by the outcome of negotiations and this wave of emotion that the deal aroused was so deep that party members rejected it outright. In their eyes it would have been a complete defeat for the Social Democrats and that is why they said: we must refuse this government set-up. They did not stop to consider the implications of this decision, what it would lead to. "
So it's a battle of wills between the two coalition parties - where does that leave the Czech Republic? What scenarios are now open?
Well, three possibilities are being widely discussed. The first is that the Christian Democrats will make some more concessions to help the Social Democrats swallow this bitter pill and save face. However, that is considered highly unlikely. Then there is the possibility of a minority Social Democrat government supported by the Communists. There is a faction in the Social Democratic Party which would welcome this, but as Vaclav Zak says - it would be an extremely damaging step for the party to take.
"Many Social Democrats do not correctly asses the situation of the Social Democratic Party. If the Social Democratic Party were to be labelled by the media as "the party which brought the Communists back to power" it would hit them hard in the next elections. That is clear to Prime Minister Gross and to his advisers, but I think that emotions in the Social Democratic Party are running so high now that they simply do not see the fact that they have been defeated and that before they can win again they must accept defeat."
And finally, there's a possibility that the opposition right wing Civic Democrats are pushing very hard for and that's a caretaker government made up of all parliamentary parties, with the exception of the communists, in return for a promise of early elections.
Of course, a great deal depends on what happens within the Social Democratic Party, which is obviously undergoing a crisis and is seriously divided. There is speculation that faced with the possibility of a government supported by the communists or early elections, the ministers from Mr. Gross' own party could turn against him and force a vote on the resignation of the entire Cabinet at its next session.