Czech Right Seeks New Leader to Stave Off Elections

The Central European country’s ruling party looks for someone to replace Petr Nečas.

The Czech Republic’s ruling conservatives tried to find a replacement for Petr Nečas on Monday who resigned as premier a day earlier. They hope to continue their right-wing coalition although Nečas told reporters the same day that President Miloš Zeman would rather call early elections.

Nečas quit after prosecutors charged his chief of staff with bribery and illegally ordering military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations. She and seven more officials were arrested on Thursday in connection with graft scandals.

While Nečas denied personal involvement, the revelations embarrassed his own party as well as its liberal coalition partners who had staked their credibility on fighting corruption in a country that has had its fair share of political and business scandals since the collapse of communism.

The opposition Social Democrats, who are far ahead in opinion polls, had threatened Nečas to call a confidence vote in parliament and are likely to demand early elections. Nečas’ conservatives by contrast, who got over 20 percent of the votes in the last election but are hovering between 10 and 15 percent support in recent surveys, would rather serve out the government’s mandate.

For that, they need the leftist president’s support for he is the only one who can appoint a replacement premier. However, it takes twenty more votes than a regular majority to dissolve parliament and trigger elections which would require the support of at least one coalition party. Either Zeman or one of the ruling parties will have to acquiesce.

If the former does, the current industry and trade minister Martin Kuba is the most likely candidate to succeed Nečas, according to Czech media. “I’m ready to take this responsibility,” he told reporters on Sunday.

Justice minister Jiří Pospíšil, another potential candidate, wouldn’t tell Lidové noviny newspaper on Monday whether he intended to stand for the prime ministership but did insist, “We would like to complete the program of the government.”