Czech President Swears in Government Led by Ally

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PARIS -- President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic swore in a leftist interim government on Wednesday after a corruption and spying scandal that forced the prime minister to resign.

Mr. Zeman's confirmation of a leftist loyalist and former finance minister, Jiri Rusnok, as prime minister was done in open defiance of the main parties in Parliament, and analysts said the move threatened to plunge the country into further political upheaval and uncertainty.

Mr. Rusnok, 52, replaces Petr Necas, who resigned in June after a senior aide was charged with bribery and abuse of office. The aide is accused of using the secret services to spy on Mr. Necas's estranged wife, whom he is divorcing, and of bribing three rebellious members of Parliament with jobs in state companies. Prosecutors are also preparing to charge Mr. Necas with corruption, and earlier this week they asked Parliament to lift his immunity from prosecution. He has vowed to fight the charges.

Mr. Zeman said Wednesday that the new government was tasked with ensuring that no political pressure was exerted on the corruption investigation. "I believe that you will be a guarantee that affairs will not be swept under the carpet," he said at the swearing-in ceremony, referring to the cabinet members.

The new cabinet has 30 days to request a vote of confidence from Parliament, which analysts said it was all but certain to lose. The fiscally conservative coalition of rightist parties that had backed Mr. Necas's government has already vowed to block Mr. Rusnok's economic proposals, which include using spending on infrastructure to try to stimulate growth.

In a sign of the challenges ahead, Miroslava Nemcova, the parliamentary speaker, who was the rightist coalition's choice for prime minister, on Wednesday refused to drink a glass of Champagne with the new cabinet, calling the new government "toxic." "I reject the government as a whole," she said.

If Mr. Rusnok's government fails to win a simple majority in a confidence vote, Mr. Zeman has no constitutional deadline to name a replacement before the next scheduled elections in May 2014, and the caretaker government he named could remain in place anyway. Alternatively, Parliament has the power to dissolve itself, which would spur early elections. But analysts said the rightist parties, badly bruised by the corruption scandal, were unlikely to call for early elections they would invariably lose, making it likely that Mr. Zeman will get his way.

Mr. Zeman is the country's first popularly elected president, and his appointment of Mr. Rusnok has been widely viewed in the Czech Republic as a power grab. Analysts said he was intent on pushing his own political and economic agendas, including higher taxes and spending and closer ties with Russia. The cabinet is made up of several Zeman loyalists.

A protracted battle between the president and Parliament could backfire by undermining investor confidence in the country, which is in recession. "The situation is already politically unstable and this could plunge the country into more instability," said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University in Prague. "Zeman is a political chess player, and is using the fact that he is the first popularly elected president to try and expand his power. His politics is Milos Zeman, and that's all that matters to him."

Jana Marie Preiss contributed reporting from Prague.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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