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Czech Republic: New Cabinet Begins Work Amid Political Tension

Prague, 7 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- It was once planned that leaders of the tripartite ruling Czech coalition would meet today to sort out differences. But in the months since that meeting was agreed upon, the coalition collapsed, and its leaders are now barely on speaking terms with each other.

Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is in a state of disarray with nearly half of its lower house parliamentary deputies in opposition to Klaus. He, in turn, demands that his opponents either terminate their activities or leave the party.

Klaus' attempt last month to reach an agreement with his designated successor as Prime Minister, Josef Tosovsky, prior to any appointment of ODS members to the new cabinet backfired. Tosovsky stood by his position that each of the three coalition parties first submit names and hold discussion on the distribution of seats later but he simply circumvented Klaus and offered himself posts to four ODS politicians, including the ODS whip in the lower house of parliament, Jan Cerny.

The four ODS ministers -- Ivan Pilip in Finance, Michal Lobkowicz in Defense, Stanislav Volak in Labor and Social Affairs and Cerny in Local Development -- now face demands from Klaus and his aides to either give up their cabinet posts or else leave ODS.

President Vaclav Havel, currently in the Canary Islands on recuperative holiday, has taken an active role in forming the new government. Havel appointed Tosovsky and made clear which members from Klaus' cabinet could stay on and which had to leave. Havel briefly interrupted his vacation and flew back to Prague on New Year's Day to swear in the new government the following day.

Tosovsky in a brief speech at the appointment ceremony said that the main issues in his yet to be prepared program will focus on the negotiations leading to an entry into NATO and the EU, on speeding up economic reforms and privatization, on fighting crime and corruption and on improving public access to information about the cabinet's work "by making all decisions maximally transparent."

Tosovsky has appointed 31-year-old Vladimir Mlynar, until recently editor in chief of the news weekly Respekt, to be his spokesman and Minister without Portfolio. Mlynar is also to coordinate the country's intelligence services and to oversee minority issues, which means mainly the Roma population.

Mlynar, together with former Interior Minister Jan Ruml who has been one of Klaus' chief critics in ODS, edited Lidove noviny in 1988 and 1989 when it was a samizdat monthly. Mlynar is the son of the late Zdenek Mlynar, a secretary of the Communist party's Central Committee during the 1968 Prague Spring and the highest ranking Soviet bloc official ever to emigrate. His mother was the late Rita Klimova, the first post Communist Czechoslovak Ambassador to the US. Mlynar is a close friend of former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec whose resignation and subsequent criticism of ODS financing improprieties touched off the current crisis.

He is also closely affiliated with Karel Schwarzenberg, who was head of Havel's chancellery and is co-chairman of the Foreign Ministry's Bohemia Foundation, and who has been searching for years for young Czechs with-"political leadership potential." Mlynar assisted Tosovsky in his discussions on forming a government and is reported to have been appointed at Havel's request.

Havel is to return to Prague next Monday, eight days before his own re-election contest in parliament.

Havel faces little opposition. Only the extremist Communists (KSCM) and Republicans (SPR-RSC) will oppose him. But the president's active role in dealing with the current crisis over the last two months has earned him the ire of Klaus' faithful in ODS.

Following the January 20 presidential vote in the parliament, the legislature is to vote confidence in the new government. Klaus said on Sunday that the ODS's supporting vote will depend on whether the four ODS ministers stay in the government and resign from the party or leave the cabinet. Klaus said there can be no third way. He labeled Tosovsky's cabinet a hybrid or "cat-dog", adding that if the four ministers fail to chose either option, then his group "will not under any circumstances vote confidence in the new government."

But last night the party leadership decided that ODS will neither block Tosovsky's cabinet nor will it bind its deputies in the confidence vote. This would appear to ensure the government's survival.

Klaus begins discussing later today with the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Milos Zeman, the length of the mandate for the Tosovsky's government.

The Social Democrats said today they would vote confidence in the government, provided its mandate does not go beyond June. And political tension is likely to continue.