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Can Josef Lux form a stable government?

Christian and Democratic Union (KDU-CSL) chairman Josef Lux faces an uneasy task in trying to put together the Czech Reublic's next government. Whether he succedds depends on several factors, the most important of which are the outcome of the upcoming congress of outgoing Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the lenght of the government's tenure.

Should Lux attempt to form a government that should survive until the year 2,000, he is likely to fail for several reasons. First, given the fact that the parliamentary caucses of the ODS and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) are currently split, it is virtually impossible to form a government that would have a majority backing in the parliament. The outgoing gvernment of Vaclav Klaus was supported by 100 deputies, while the opposition was supported by 99 deputies. One deputy, former Social Democrat Josef Wagner, mostly supported the coalition but often demanded concessions in return. The contiuning fracturing of the ODS and the ODA has changed this arithmetic, and it is currently unclear how many deputies would suppport a coalition consisting of the ODS, the KDU-CSL, and the ODA.

The outcome of the ODS congress is equally important for a possible long-term survival of the next government. Should Vaclav Klaus win at the congress--a scenario that is increasingly likely--the ODA and the KDU-CSL would be willing to enter into a coalition with the ODS only if Klaus is not represented in the government. Such a demand would, however, be hardly acceptable to Klaus. But even if the two parties agreed to work with Klaus again, a significant number of ODS deputies, a majority of whom are now on the record as being against Klaus, would oppose such a government.

Should Klaus be defeated at the congress, the party is likely to split. Most of the deputies who support Klaus would probably leave the party with him. Should they stay, they could not be relied on to support a government in whch Klaus's ODS rivals would be represented. The ODS caucus could, in theory, suport a government in which the ODS is not repesented at all, but such a government would be inherently unstable.

Luxs chances to form a stable government would improve markedly, should the government only be formed to lead the country to early elections. The opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has said it is likely to support an interim gvernment led by Lux in exchange for the promise of early elections. Klaus and his supporters in the party, too, are in favor of early elections. And so are the two extremist parties--the Republicans and the Communists.

Therefore, should Lux state clearly he is going to form a temporary government that will function only until a new goverment can formed on the basis of early elections, his gvernment may get enough support to survive.Such a government would have to eschew any large-scale reform projecs. It would run the country on day-to-day basis and ensure that negotiations with NATO and the European Union continue. It could, however, work on drafting important pieces of legislation that could then be submitted by the post-election government to the new parliament.

Calling early elections is, however, not easy under the Czech Constitution. Should the currently valid constitutional procedures be followed, the elections could be called in the fall of the next year at the earliest. The CSSD has therefore proposed a constitutional amendment under which the current parliament be dissolved and early elections called. The CSSD also demands that an interim government ask the chairman of the parliament's lower chamber to declare the state of legislative emergency, under which the period of several weeks, which is normally necessary for passing laws, can be significantly shortened. The CSSD will support Lux's government only if such an amendment will be passed passed.

Lux has suggested that if the Constitution is indeed changed, such a change should be a more permanent one, so that in can be used in the future. Under his proposal, the parliament could vote to dissolve itself and call early elections if qualified majorites of both deputies and Senators vote in favor of dissolving the parliament. The president could then either accept the result of the vote and call early elections or ignore it. Should the state of legislative emergency be indeed declared, either of the two constitutional changes(the CSSD one or the KDU-CSL one) could be passed as early as January and early elections called as early as the end of May.

Although Lux may not in the end be named the new prime minister, he is a good candidate. Most important, he represents continuity with the previous government. He is also a political professional who has substituted for Klaus in his absence in running the government. A political novice, such as a non-political expert, would spend several months learning to run the government, only to depart shortly aferwards. Lux, whose party enjoys stable support among voters, is also likely to be represented in any post-election government. Finally, the KDU-CSL stradles the political center and is therefore a natural link between the Civic parties and the CSSD.

Should Lux be offered the post of prime minister next week, and should he accpet, he can politically both suffer and benefit. Should he be perceived as someone who has taken on the job mainly because he is power-hungry, he is likely to be punished by voters in early elections. Should he, however, be able to project the image of someone who has subordinated his personal and party fortunes to the need to gove the country a degree of stability in an uneasy period, he may politically benefit.

Reuters - 11. 12. 1997