It’s now two and a half months since the Czechs got themselves into trouble by holding an election with an even number of seats in parliament. This being the year of close elections, it produced a dead heat: 100 seats for the centre-right alliance of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens, and 100 also for the combined Social Democrats and Communists.

Since then the Czech Republic has been without a government as politicians try to come up with a solution that the two major parties, Civic Democrats and Social Democrats, can both live with. The current idea is a Civic Democrat minority government that would be supported by the Social Democrats in return for promising to hold fresh elections at some early date, probably in 2008.

Last week, the outgoing Social Democrat prime minister Jiri Paroubek formally resigned, allowing the president to invite Civic Democrat Mirek Topolanek to form a government. But news this morning is that talks between the two leaders are “on the brink of failure”, with the Social Democrats threatening to pull out.

A new government has to be approved by parliament within 30 days, so the Social Democrats may be hoping to get their own chance if Topolanek fails, perhaps by luring a defector from the other side (the Greens would seem an obvious target). Or they may simply be holding out for better terms, such as key parliamentary positions, in return for their support (a previous attempt to elect a speaker just intensified the deadlock).

Either way, the deadlock confirms something that we all intuitively know but often forget: how unimportant government is. Although there is reportedly “concern among investors” about the instability, a modern western country has functioned without a government since the beginning of June (Somalia has done without one for 15 years). Politicians are convinced that they have to be there to make critical decisions, but most things manage perfectly well without them.