Although it was caretaker prime minister Jiří Rusnok that lost today’s vote of no confidence by a margin of 100 to 93 in the Czech parliament, but the real loser is the Czech Republic’s new president Miloš Zeman — albeit only temporarily.
Zeman appointed Rusnok (pictured above) prime minister in late June after the collapse of the government of conservative prime minister Petr Nečas stemming from a sensational espionage and corruption scandal. You might expect that, as in most parliamentary systems, Zeman would have appointed a replacement prime minister who comes from the party or coalition of parties that currently wields a majority. Instead, he appointed Rusnok, an acolyte who served as Zeman’s finance minister from 2001 to 2002 and later as the minister of industry and trade under Zeman’s social democratic successor, Vladimír Špidla.
So what gives?
When Nečas resigned, it was a stroke of luck for Zeman, who took over as president only in March 2013 and who is pushing to consolidate more power within the presidency at the expense of the Czech parliament. Though both of his predecessors — playwright and freedom fighter Václav Havel nor euroskpetic Václav Klaus — played outsized roles as president due to their gravitas and outspokenness, Zeman argues that his direct mandate from the Czech people should provide him a more hands-on role in setting Czech policy (Before January’s direct election, the Czech president was indirectly elected by the parliament). By appointing his own economic adviser as prime minister, Zeman could immediately begin to shape the Czech government according to his own prerogative.
But Zeman’s presidential power grab is a longer-term project than just the Rusnok vote today, and though his attempt to install Rusnok failed, it served a very important purpose for Zeman by bringing the chief center-left party, the Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party), more fully under his influence. With polls showing that the ČSSD is set to win the next Czech parliamentary election, that’s arguably an even important goal for Zeman’s long-run designs than installing Rusnok as prime minister.