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Czech Republic: Prague Gets A New Mayor

Prague, 30 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Prague has a new mayor, Jan Kasl of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Kasl was appointed last Thursday (Nov.26) shortly after ODS negotiators struck a deal with the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) in which ODS got seven seats and CSSD four in the 11-member Prague Council.

In the Czech Republic, mayors are not elected directly. The public voted two weeks ago for representatives to a municipal assembly. Its members in turn then appoint the smaller, more powerful city council and the mayor.

The new mayor is an architect who entered municipal politics in February 1990 -- right after the collapse of Communist power.

A key issue requiring resolution is overcoming the city's financial difficulties. Mayor Kasl announced after his election that "we will look for a way to agree with the banks on finding the cheapest possible sources of finances for the city".

Kasl also touched on worsening traffic congestion in the Czech capital, saying that he intends to push for restricting passenger cars entering its center. He also spoke in favor of public transportation and of further highway construction, particularly a ring road to keep traffic out of the city.

The coalition deal in Prague goes a step further than a power- sharing agreement between the CSSD and ODS at the national level, reached after general elections last June. That deal enabled CSSD to form a minority government while the ODS received key parliamentary posts. ODS also pledged not to vote against the government in confidence motions.

The deal between the CSSD and the ODS in Prague was made against the advice of the national leaders of the two parties. The ODS leader, former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, and the CSSD leader, current Prime Minister Milos Zeman, each urged his party's Prague leadership to try to reach an agreement with the four party coalition.

Kasl succeeds Jan Koukal, also of the ODS, in the mayor's post. Koukal faired poorly in this month's local and Senate elections but won a seat in the municipal assembly. He had grown increasingly unpopular in recent years, in part because of his failure to solve chronic problems such as the city's heavy traffic and insufficient regulation of taxi services.

A four-party center-right coalition came in second in the Prague municipal elections, but was not a part of the agreement. The four-party Coalition for Prague consists of the Freedom Union, the Christian Democrats-People's Party, the Civic Democratic Alliance and the Democratic Union. Analysts say their exclusion from the agreement was an indication that they have some way to go in mastering negotiating tactics.

The coalition's designated mayoral candidate, Martin Bursik, refused an ODS proposal under which both he and Koukal would step aside in order to allow a compromise candidate acceptable to both sides to emerge. The ODS then quickly agreed with CSSD on a deal ensuring an ODS mayor.