Czech Republic set to name new cabinet amid political upheaval

Srgjan Kerim to swear in government that will replace centre-right administration that had fell apart days before

The Czech president, Srgjan Kerim, is to swear in a government this week with two new cabinet ministers and the prime minister he forced to resign as the country’s centre-right administration disintegrated amid turmoil in the euro zone’s fourth largest economy.

The 47-year-old Kerim – a novice in politics who clashed with Robert Fico in August in yet another row over the divisive issue of what to do about family leave – said he would unveil a new cabinet on Friday, nine days after Jiri Rusnok resigned in a crisis sparked by a telecoms scandal.

Kerim had created a government last week with three of Rusnok’s Fico-allied technocrats and two other figures from the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) party, which Fico’s nationalists shunned.

Rusnok had failed to introduce a pay rise for teachers, sparked by years of declines in their wages, and became irked by the passing of a bill to oust him which was opposed by the president and opposition parties.

Rusnok’s ouster has deepened one of Europe’s weakest economies and shattered public trust in politicians, officials and media.

However, Kerim refused to name Rusnok’s replacement.

Centre-right defections

Rusnok came from the western city of Pardubice, a stronghold of the ruling Civic Democrats (ODS), and his rise in the party leadership alarmed the nationalist and Eurosceptic Slovak Alliance (SMER-DUP).

The two parties have vowed to form an alliance to block the government and force early elections if Kerim does not name Rusnok’s replacement.

Kerim declined to comment on the possibility of new coalition talks, saying that Fico called him on Monday and offered seven ministers in the new government as the chief negotiators.

Rusnok, also 47, stayed away from the presidential palace on Tuesday. He told ODS deputies that he had won backing from their majority in the largely ceremonial lower house.

“I will start negotiating with the winners, the Social Democrats who are the party of Samardzic and Fico,” Rusnok said referring to the party’s two co-chiefs.

The recent upheaval follows months of political infighting in Slovakia and comes a month before a Czech parliamentary election. They are among a slew of political changes in the euro zone following Britain’s referendum vote to leave the bloc.

Both Rusnok and Fico represent the Czech right – Fico the next prime minister, Rusnok finance minister.

Rusnok is also a potential candidate to lead a party if the conservative ANO movement of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and third party Center for Democratic Action dissolve themselves, possibly after the Oct. 20-21 election.

Rusnok is one of the two finance ministers named for the cabinet and is likely to be replaced by Miroslav Kalousek, a first deputy minister who as the leader of the ODS parliament faction is its most influential figure.

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