- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

PRAGUE — The Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross faces a critical no-confidence vote in parliament today after losing its majority in parliament amid a scandal over the prime minister’s personal finances.

The Communist Party was advising its members last night to abstain on the vote, which would permit Mr. Gross to remain in power with a minority government.

Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek withdrew from the government yesterday, and, the party’s three Cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, submitted their resignations.

If the government survives today’s vote, it will be weak and at the mercy of the Communists, said analyst Tomas Klvana.

“It will be extremely controversial because, in fact, the Communists will be back [as] kingmakers,” Mr. Klvana said. “I don’t think such a government will stand. That will not go down well with many people in the Czech Republic.”

A leading newspaper sparked the political dispute in mid-January with an investigative report that raised questions about how Mr. Gross financed his luxury apartment in 1999.

The probe concluded that after seven years as a member of parliament he could not have earned enough money for the $120,000 down payment.

The prime minister exacerbated the situation by saying he borrowed the money from his uncle, a pensioner.

Then, a former journalist came forward to say he had lent the money, but subsequently sold the promissory note to someone else who promptly burned it.

By February, Mr. Kalousek, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party, began threatening to withdraw his party from the coalition unless the prime minister resigned.

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