PRAGUE, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- Czech President Milos Zeman has appointed Bohuslav Sobotka, the leader of the Social Democrats, as the new prime minister, 83 days after early elections completely changed the Czech political landscape. The appointment marks the beginning of a new era in Czech politics, and also the beginning of new political battles.
The new Czech government got a comfortable 111-seat majority in the House of Deputies, short of a constitutional majority, but with plenty of room to move. The three new coalition partners, the Social Democrats (CSSD), the ANO movement, and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) span the political spectrum, which could lead to some volatility.
Sobotka must now be breathing a sigh of relief, as the expectation for the majority of 2013 was that President Zeman would use his Presidential powers to appoint a different prime minister than the winning party put forward. All signs had previously pointed to Zeman's ally, Michal Hasek, being the likely choice, despite not being the Social Democrat's candidate for the prime minister.
Sobotka managed to outmanoeuvre Hasek, and was able to secure the resignation from leadership positions of Hasek and his loyalists, winning a firm control over his party.
The largest battles, however, may yet be to come. The president has indicated that he intends to scrutinize all ministerial appointments, and perhaps block them.
The president has vowed to support competent, expert ministers, and not to allow unqualified people to hold ministries.
Sobotka has made clear his willingness to fight for his ministers, which will surely test the political system if the president chooses to oppose them. Ultimately, in this parliamentary democracy, the government would likely win, but not without casualties.
The appointment of the ministerial candidates may be the immediate challenge, but if Sobotka can wend his way through the minefield, larger battles may lay ahead. Many of Sobotka's core promises in the election are opposed by his political partners, including raising taxes (opposed by both ANO and KDU-CSL) and changing the restitution to the Czech churches (opposed by KDU-CSL). Some of these issues may be overcome by support in votes from opposition parties, but such clefts would not bode well for the health of the coalition.
The leaders of the coalition partners, Andrej Babis of ANO and Pavel Belobradek of KDU-CSL, could well be loose cannons that could harm the future government.
Babis, the Czech Republic's 2nd-richest man, led a populist movement to unforeseen success in October's elections, and has been a sharp critic of the political status quo. He has been quiet since the elections, though that may change once the parties get into the hard slog of governing. Belobradek, on the other hand, comes from a party with a tradition of centrist compromising and multi-partisanship. He, however, almost single-handedly brought down the fledgling coalition during negotiations in December, so there is no guarantee that KDU-CSL will be an easy partner to work with.
Sobotka, an unassuming, balding, bespectacled man who looks like he could be a professor or a librarian, has surprised many with the strength of his leadership and his ability to overcome the formidable hurdles that have blocked his way.
He now has attained his goal, but the trials that face him may be the toughest he has ever faced.