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Western Press Review: Czechs Suffer Election Victory

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 22 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A spokesman for the Czech Republic's Social Democratic Party quipped after the weekend's elections, "We have suffered a victory."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Former prime minister is unexpectedly poised for a return to power

After quoting the Social Democrat spokesman, Peter S. Green writes in an analysis in today's International Herald Tribune, "It is not considered likely that the Social Democrats will have to endure that pain of victory for very long."

Green says the next steps in Czech politics are undetermined. He writes: "Shying away from a radical change, Czechs split their vote in weekend elections for a new parliament, leaving Vaclav Klaus, the former prime minister, unexpectedly poised for a return to power. The opposition Social Democrats emerged as the single largest party, but they are thought unlikely to be able to form a government. If the three rightist parties can bury their differences, they could hold a two-seat majority in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies, freezing out the left."

The writer says: "But potential coalition partners were already distancing themselves from the Social Democrats, quietly suggesting that they might be able to work with Mr. Klaus."

HANDELSBLATT: The Czech electorate showed maturity

Commentator Joachim Weidemann questions in Germany's Handelsblatt why the Czechs bother to vote if they keep themselves in the same old quandary. He writes: "Goethe's Faust with his poor fools springs to mind to some who are observing the dilemma which faces the Czech parliament -- 102 seats for a strife-ridden conservative camp, 98 seats for the left. You then have to pose the question why did the Czechs go to the polls when everything remains as it was, and the stalemate in politics can be turned into a checkmate in the economy? But a ray of hope shines. Some 75 percent of the Czech electorate which went to the polls showed maturity. They elected stability and denounced the extremists. They doomed the extreme right Republicans and the populist Pensioners' Party to fail with a less than five percent, so that the West could breath freely again. They voted for a change, but not a radical one."

Weidemann writes: "The people have passed their maturity exam with flying colors; the people's representatives have not done so yet." He adds: "The politician generation of the Velvet Revolution has spoiled things among themselves. President Havel, prior to the elections, indicated the only way out. The burnt out first generation of reformers should resign and leave the up and coming to take over power."

WASHINGTON POST: The Christian Democratic Union earned the apparent kingmaker's role

In a news analysis published in today's Washington Post, Associated Press writer Nadia Rybarova identifies the Christian Democratic Union as a potential 'kingmaker,' that is a minor element with disproportionate influence on the choice of leader. She writes: "A small center-right party that won only 9 percent of the vote in Czech elections emerged today as the deciding factor in whether the government stays to the right or moves left. The Christian Democratic Union, the fourth-largest of the five parties elected to the new parliament, earned the apparent kingmaker's role as a result of bitter divisions between most of the parties."

Rybarova says: "Christian Democratic leader Josef Lux said he would prefer forming a coalition with the Social Democrats and the Freedom Union. But the Union's leader, Jan Ruml, said he will never be in the same government with Zeman. This may force the Social Democrats to form a minority government that is not expected to last, or go into opposition again -- something Zeman is unwilling to do. Should he fail to form a stable government, Klaus may be asked to do so."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Czech right refuses to die

The Wall Street Journal Europe carries today a news analysis by staff reporter David Rocks in Prague, contending that the Czech Right has proved tenacious but faces difficulties. He writes: "The Czech right refuses to die, but it remains unclear whether its members can learn how to live together. Despite ceding the top spot to the leftist Social Democrats in weekend parliamentary elections, three right and center-right parties together won enough votes to potentially form a majority coalition government."

Rocks says: "Even if Mr. Zeman is unable to build a viable coalition, it is far from certain that the three right-wing parties would be able to form a government. Mr. Klaus and Christian Democratic leader Josef Lux are bitter rivals, and the Freedom Union is composed largely of rebels from Mr. Klaus's party who split off to form their own group in the wake of the campaign finance scandal that led to the resignation of Mr. Klaus's government last November."

The writer adds: "Another big surprise in the ballot was the failure of the far-right nationalist Republicans to garner the 5 percent of votes needed to enter Parliament."

GUARDIAN: Havel was thrust into the role of kingmaker

The Guardian, London, like The Washington Post, names a kingmaker in Prague, but the Guardian writer's nominee is President Vaclav Havel. Ian Traynor writes in a news analysis: "Havel was thrust into the role of kingmaker yesterday after a general election left the Social Democrats as the strongest party for the first time in modern Czech history."

Traynor says that a coalition deal between Klaus and Zeman "is unlikely and the chances of a stable majority coalition being formed are slim. There will now be weeks of haggling with the onus on President Havel to help make the country governable.

"Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Czech Republic has been the most stable country in post-communist Europe. But the weekend's elections confirmed that those days are gone, ushering in a period of fragile government, shaky coalitions, and growing public anxiety."

INDEPENDENT: The margin may have been too narrow

Prague freelance writer Siegfried Mortkowitz writes in a news analysis today in The Independent, London: "Czech voters moved to the left and gave the Social Democrats a victory." He writes: "However, the margin may have been too narrow for the part to form a viable government."