Czech interim government's fate uncertain, EU presidency at stake

Czech interim government's fate uncertain, EU presidency at stake Prague - The fate of Czech Republic's interim government, due to take the helm of the European Union and bring the country to October early elections, appeared uncertain Tuesday after two small parties refused to participate.

Two junior partners in Mirek Topolanek's outgoing ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, balked late Monday at a deal their leaders forged with the two biggest parties and bitter rivals, Topolanek's Civic Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats led by Jiri Paroubek.

The leaders of four of the five parties in parliament's lower house agreed Sunday to form a caretaker technocrat cabinet chaired by statistician Jan Fischer that would govern until the snap polls to be held before October 15.

While the Christian Democrats said they still may back the new government if they like its programme, the Greens insist on new talks and want Topolanek's cabinet to complete the country's EU term.

The Czech Republic holds the six-month rotating EU presidency until June 30.

Analysts said that the small parties probably balked at the deal in a bid to improve their poor standing prior to the early polls.

The large rival parties continue to back the deal. It is unclear what the they would do if it falls through.

They could still agree on an interim technocrat cabinet, a grand coalition or a minority opposition-backed cabinet as they jointly control a safe majority of 149 seats in the lower house.

The future shape of the Czech EU presidency is also at stake. The interim cabinet would take over from Topolanek when appointed by President Vaclav Klaus, having 30 days to win a confidence vote in parliament.

Under the Sunday deal, the four party leaders wanted Klaus to appoint Fischer's caretaker cabinet on May 9, which could provide outspoken EU critic Klaus with greater sway over the presidency's last two months.

It remains unclear whether Klaus or Fischer would replace Topolanek in the post of the president of the EU Council, who would chair a regular top-level EU summit in Brussels planned June 18-19.

Klaus said in a radio interview on Monday that he is ready to play a greater role in the presidency if needed.

The Greens, who loathe Klaus over his doubts on whether global warming was man-made, said in their statement that they also removed support for the deal in an effort to foil chances of "the europhobic president" to preside over the 27-member bloc.

But their leader, outgoing Vice-Premier Martin Bursik, also added that they would return their backing if the Christian Democrats do, the Czech news agency CTK reported him as saying.

Topolanek's three-party center-right cabinet has ruled as a caretaker since being forced to step down on April 26, following a lost vote of no-confidence in the lower house two days earlier, a result of domestic wrangling.

The cabinet's term should have lasted until regular general elections in mid-2010. (dpa)