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Czech Coalition Struggles to Stay on Track

Prague, June 3 (RFE/RL) -- The three-party, pro-business coalition which has governed the Czech Republic for the last four years, and in the view of many has successfully transformed the country's economy to a free-market one, is now scrambling to try and retain its hold on the controls of the country's government.

Two days of voting on Friday and Saturday have left the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and the Christian Democratic Union (KDU) two seats short of a simple majority in the Czech Parliament.

The coalition is short even though it actually increased its overall popular support since 1992. But a strong showing by the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which captured most of the votes that went to smaller parties in the past, has given the opposition a much more powerful voice in parliament. The communists and ultra-right-wing Republicans also control more than a quarter of the parliamentary seats, leaving the coalition to try and figure out how to govern with a minority in parliament.

The chairman of the parliament, Milan Uhde (ODS) told Czech Radio this morning the situation now is much more complicated than in the past. The coalition had 105 seats in parliament after the 1992 election and was able to count on occasional support from two minor parties, which will no longer be represented in parliament because they failed to gain the minimum five percent of the popular vote.

Uhde predicted the future parliament will be more unstable, with the governing coalition having to compromise much more in order to get legislation passed.

He said some bills will be much more difficult to pass, while others will be impossible.

Alex Angel, a securities dealer with Wood and Company in Prague, told RFE/RL Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus will have much more difficulty in continuing with some tough, but badly needed, reforms which he has put off for the last four years.

Angel said rent reforms; gas, electricity and telecommunication reforms, have all been delayed because Klaus hoped to get an even greater majority in parliament before tackling the issues many in the public will find painful.

"It's not a disaster," Angel said of the election results, "but it will be much more difficult now."

He saw the results as a personal rebuke of Vaclav Klaus, whom many in the country describe as arrogant. CSSD leader Milos Zeman accused Klaus of being "blind and deaf" to the concerns of the voting public.

"Klaus's personality was an issue as much as anything in this election," Angel said.

Klaus, an economist who proudly says he is a fan of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's right-wing policies, is now left battling for his political life.

Zeman said in an interview in the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes today that he will not co-operate with the ODS under any conditions, as long as Klaus remains Prime Minister.

"On the other hand, I am willing to admit that even in ODS there are some rationally-thinking people," Zeman said. He suggested if Klaus was replaced, a minority government could function in the Czech Republic.

"This is Zeman's great chance to get even," said Jiri Pehe of the Open Media Research Institute. Klaus and Zeman openly dislike each other.

But Klaus has so far refused to consider stepping aside. He told Mlada Fronta, now is not the time to be rushing things. "Rather, it's necessary to prepare a solution that will allow this country to go forward."

Some analysts have suggested Klaus will be able to convince several members of the CSSD to join his coalition, in exchange for junior ministry positions. Zeman has said as much himself in accusing the Prime Minister governing.

Klaus has publicly rejected the accusation.

It will now be up to President Vaclav Havel to name a Prime Minister, who the President believes will be capable of running a minority government.

That means Havel will have a much greater role in Czech politics than in the past. In the last four years, he was more of a ceremonial figure, seen by many as the government's conscience. Havel will now be crucial in helping to find compromises which will not upset the political stability in the country.

Havel will meet with all the major party leaders, except the Communists and the Republicans, later this afternoon. It is expected to take several days, if not weeks, for the political situation in the Czech Republic to clear up.