Czechs seek new PM as graft scandal topples 'Mr Clean'

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Published June 18, 2013

| AFP

Czech political leaders scrambled Tuesday to find a new prime minister and avoid snap elections, after Petr Necas stepped down over a massive bribery and spying scandal involving his top aide and alleged lover.

Leaders from conservative coalition parties were expected to try to agree on a candidate before leftist rival President Milos Zeman, who appoints the prime minister, opens talks with party chiefs on Friday.

"The situation is open, complicated, confused," Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, said Tuesday.

"There are many options ranging from early elections to a caretaker government, or the current coalition with a new prime minister," he told AFP.

The massive graft scandal erupted Thursday when 400 policemen raided the cabinet office, defence ministry, private villas and a bank in a dramatic swoop that turned up large stashes of illicit cash and gold.

Jana Nagyova, Necas's chief of staff and alleged lover, was arrested during the raid and charged with bribery and complicity in the abuse of power.

Seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers were also charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Dubbed "Mr. Clean" for his high-profile anti-corruption drive, Necas was forced to resign on Monday.

Czech media said Tuesday that Necas would likely also be indicted on charges of bribery and abuse of power, while Germany's Berliner Zeitung skewered the "Czech Republic as a Banana Republic".

Opinion polls show the Zeman-allied leftwing Social Democrats would win a snap election hands down and sweep Necas's disgraced right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) and their allies out of power.

"The opposition is calling for early elections but the governing coalition will hardly want them because the polls don't signal a good result for them," Mlejnek said.

A June 1-10 poll by the STEM agency showed Tuesday that the Social Democrats would win any elections with 31 percent support, ahead of the ODS and right-wing coalition TOP 09 at 16 percent each.

The poll also suggested the Social Democrats could easily form a majority government with the far-left Communists.

Before the scandal, Zeman said he wanted general elections held in tandem with an EU Parliament vote on May 24-25 next year to save taxpayers' money.

Necas's ODS has said it will choose a candidate to lead a government built along the current three-party coalition also comprising the right-wing TOP 09 and centrist LIDEM parties.

Tipped as their favourite for the premier's job, ODS acting chairman Martin Kuba said Monday the selection process "will take days".

However that coalition, in office since July 2010 under Necas, had lost its majority, relying for votes on former allies now sitting as independents.

Another option is the dissolution of parliament and early elections, as demanded by Czech dailies on Tuesday.

"The whole system has failed and we need a restart," said the Hospodarske noviny business newspaper, adding "no good solutions are available".

An EU member of 10.5 million people, the Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split with Slovakia -- a legacy of four decades of totalitarian communist rule.

Last year, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked the Czech Republic worse than Costa Rica and Rwanda.

Despite the turmoil, all sides -- including the left-wing opposition -- have agreed to ensure a smooth political transition to allow for the clean-up of devastating flood damage in the country. At least 12 people perished and around 19,000 were forced from their homes.

The scandal also comes as the country continues to struggle financially. Heavily dependent on car production and exports to the crisis-hit eurozone, the Czech economy has been locked in a record-long recession lasting six straight quarters.

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http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/06/18/czechs-seek-new-pm-as-graft-scandal-topples-mr-clean/