The speaker of the Lower House, Lubomir Zaoralek, has set February 28th as the official date for a third round of Czech presidential elections to try and elect a successor to former president Vaclav Havel, who stepped down last Sunday. Midnight, on Tuesday, February 25th, will the final deadline for deputies and senators to submit the names of presidential contenders. At the moment the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, two parties in the country's governing coalition, are attempting to come up with a joint candidate, while the opposition Civic Democrats are backing former party chairman Vaclav Klaus. Many observers still say, however, that the chances of quickly finding a successor to former president Vaclav Havel remain low. If parliament fails to elect a president on February 28th, the Czech Republic will remain without a figurehead for several months, before changes in the constitution would lead to a direct presidential vote.
On Friday, just a few hours after the speaker of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek announced the date for new presidential elections, all 26 Civic Democrat senators in the Upper House voted unanimously to nominate Vaclav Klaus. In the first two sets of elections in January Mr Klaus was nominated first by Civic Democrat MPs.
The chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek has said his party is in favour of direct presidential election but does not oppose a possible third attempt by the Czech parliament to elect a new head of state. The Civic Democrats' candidate, former party leader Vaclav Klaus, won the most support in both inconclusive votes held in January and, according to opinion polls, stands the most chance if a popular vote were to take place.
The three parties in the governing coalition remain divided over whether the Czech parliament should attempt to elect a new Czech president for a third time or whether the president should be elected in a popular vote. While representatives of the Freedom Union pushed for a direct vote at Thursday's meeting, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats are still hoping to find a common candidate who could gather enough votes in both houses of parliament. The senior coalition partner, the Social Democrats propose the vote should take place within the next thirty days.
Mr Rychetsky's announcement came less than 24 hours after two other candidates - both academics with no political background - also withdrew from the race. The ruling coalition has given itself three weeks to find a suitable candidate, ahead of a third attempt by parliament to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel, who retired on Sunday after 13 years in the post. However, the two junior parties in the ruling coalition say they want to abandon a third attempt and begin moves to introduce a popular vote instead, something supported by a large majority of the public. Changing the Constitution to introduce direct presidential elections would take several months.
Efforts by the ruling coalition to find a candidate for president have run into fresh difficulties, increasingly the likelihood of the current parliamentary system being replaced by a popular vote. The latest setback came on Wednesday, when deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky said he would no longer consider standing for the post. Mr Rychetsky said his candidature was conditional on the unanimous support of all three parties in the ruling coalition. A senior cabinet member has said the problem is with Mr Rychetsky's own party, the Social Democrats. He said Mr Rychetsky had failed to gain the support of all the party's 81 MPs and Senators.
The attempt to find a replacement for Mr Havel took a bizarre turn on Wednesday, when the Czech pop singer Karel Gott announced he would stand for president if a direct vote was held. Mr Gott, who first sprung to fame in the 1960s, is known for his sugary ballads and well-publicised love affairs. A group of musicians made the announcement on his behalf at a press conference in Prague. The 63-year-old singer is currently on tour on Germany, where he is massively popular, particularly among older women.
Austrian opponents of the Czech Temelin nuclear power station have said they will fulfil their threat to hold a second symbolic hunger strike in protest at the plant. The anti-nuclear activists said on Tuesday they would begin their hunger strike outside the ministry of agriculture in Vienna on Friday. The protest action follows a similar four-day hunger strike at the beginning of January. Opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant, which went into operation in 2000, say it is unsafe and should be shut down.
Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky has the most support among the
Social Democrats, as talks continue to find a joint coalition candidate
for president. The party's leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, said on
Tuesday afternoon that all three parties in the governing coalition would
discuss the issue soon. The news followed earlier reports that two of
three people being considered by the governing parties had announced they
would not stand for the post of president. The chairwoman of the Academy
of Sciences, Helena Illnerova, was the first to drop out, followed by the
president of Charles University, Ivan Wilhelm. The other name under
consideration was academic and cancer specialist Pavel Klener.
The Czech Republic is currently without a president, following the departure of Vaclav Havel and two failed attempts by parliament to elect a successor in January. It is expected that a third bicameral vote will be held, though no date has yet been set.
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