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Czech president taps new centre-left government

The Czech president on Wednesday appointed a new centre-left government bent on jump-starting the economy as the country struggles to recover from a record-long recession.

PRAGUE: The Czech president on Wednesday appointed a new centre-left government bent on jump-starting the economy as the country struggles to recover from a record-long recession.

Led by Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka, the coalition also includes the populist ANO and smaller centrist Christian Democrat parties and enjoys a stable 111-seat majority in the 200-member parliament.

Sobotka vowed "economic growth, prosperity and necessary stability" after fellow leftist President Milos Zeman okayed the cabinet at Prague Castle.

Sobotka has taken on ANO leader Andrej Babis as finance minister. The controversial tycoon and second-wealthiest Czech is tasked with revving up the flagging economy of the EU member of 10.5 million people.

The coalition emerged from a snap election in October won by the Social Democrats. ANO emerged out of nowhere to finish a close second on promises of prosperity.

The ballot capped months of political turmoil triggered last June when the previous centre-right administration fell over a spy and bribery scandal involving the then-lover -- and now wife -- of former premier Petr Necas.

A lawyer by trade, the 42-year-old Sobotka heads a cabinet of eight Social Democrats, six ANO members and three Christian Democrats. Three ministers are women.

Lubomir Zaoralek, a staunch pro-European Social Democrat, is foreign minister while ANO's Martin Stropnicky, an actor and former diplomat, has taken over the defence ministry.

Eccentric artist and composer Vladimir Franz, a failed presidential candidate who is tattooed from head to toe, could become the most colourful member of the new administration. He is in the running for a job as deputy culture minister.

Given the coalition's ample majority, the government is expected to easily clinch a confidence vote that must take place within 30 days.

But experts believe its chances of surviving a full four-year term are thin, given the propensity of Czech governments to collapse.

"Only two Czech governments have completed their terms... now the parliament consists of seven parties, the most since 1996," Prague-based political analyst Tomas Lebeda told AFP.

"The conditions are not ripe for a stable government."

The coalition partners have vowed to stimulate "sustainable economic growth" while keeping the public deficit at or below the EU limit of 3.0 per cent of output.

Heavily dependent on car production and exports to the eurozone, the Czech economy shook off an 18-month recession, its longest-ever, last year.

While a moderate recovery is under way, the Czech central bank expects a 0.9 per cent contraction for 2013 -- the same as in 2012 -- before 1.5-per cent growth this year.

"Growth is very realistic, but it won't start because of the government -- it has already started," David Marek, an analyst at Prague-based investment bank Patria Finance, told AFP.

In a bid to give consumers breathing room, Babis has insisted on no tax hikes this year.

Savings would come instead from more efficient government spending but the depth and target of those cuts remain unclear.

Despite its pro-European drive, the coalition has remained vague about when it wants eurozone entry.

Babis said he had "no problem" with the adoption of the euro and Sobotka has hinted he will not stand in its way but has so far refused to peg a date.

The Necas government had eyed the euro with extreme caution, assuming a wait-and-see approach as the eurozone sorted out its debt woes.

The new coalition has also promised transparency and a war on graft, a burning issue in a country ranked more corrupt than Rwanda by Transparency International.

Analysts attribute the graft to four decades of totalitarian Communist rule, ending in 1989.

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