Czech president mulls technocrat cabinet

Czech President Milos Zeman on Sunday suggested a cabinet of technocrats could be a way out of the current political crisis after a corruption scandal toppled the centre-right government.

Zeman, a leftist ex-premier who took office in March after winning the country's first direct presidential election, met party leaders for crisis talks on Friday and at the weekend, saying he would announce his official stance on Tuesday.

"A government of experts, professionals who understand their ministries... is a realistic option I think," Zeman told the public broadcaster Czech Radio in an interview on Sunday.

Petr Necas, who became prime minister in July 2010, stepped down on June 17 after his chief of staff and alleged lover was indicted for abuse of power and graft.

"A sane president... should appoint a respected personality... who doesn't necessarily need a political mandate," Zeman said Sunday, adding he could see four possible candidates for prime minister, without giving any names.

Necas's ODS party and its right-wing TOP 09 allies have endorsed parliament speaker Miroslava Nemcova -- a mild-mannered 60-year-old -- to replace Necas and become the first woman to lead the Czech government.

If Zeman instead names a caretaker government of technocrats, the ODS and TOP 09 will likely try to dissolve the parliament -- a step that would lead to snap elections in 60 days.

While worried that a caretaker government might give Zeman too much power, they would need to drum up 120 votes in the 200-seat legislature in favour of dissolving parliament. They currently have the backing of 101 votes.

But the left-wing Social Democrats have also been calling for an early vote, as well as the far-left Communists.

Opinion surveys show that support for the ODS has tumbled to an all-time low and suggest that the Social Democrats and Communists would sweep an early election. They could then team up in a coalition with a comfortable majority.

The next general election is scheduled for May 2014.

The Czech Republic last had a caretaker government for a year after an ODS-led cabinet fell midway through the Czech presidency of the European Union in March 2009.

The current crisis started as Necas's chief of staff Jana Nagyova was arrested in a June 13 police swoop that included the cabinet office.

She was charged with bribery and abuse of power, along with seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers.

Prosecutors also believe she had military spies tail Necas's wife of 25 years. He announced their divorce a week ago.

In the wake of the scandal, 55 percent of Czechs want a snap election, according to a poll carried out this week and published by Czech Radio on Friday.