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.
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.
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.
The trial of a former high-ranking Communist functionary accused of treason has been postponed indefinitely. The judge hearing the case at Prague Municipal court ordered the case be sent to a higher court when a lawyer for defendant Karel Hoffman accused her of being biased. Mr Hoffman, who is now 78, is accused of ordering the stopping of radio broadcasts on the night of the Soviet-led invasion in 1968. He has said the case against him is politically-motivated, and that in reality he is being tried for his belief in socialism.
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.
Sunday, February 2nd, is the last day in Vaclav Havel's final term as president of the Czech Republic, with Mr Havel stepping down after thirteen years. Earlier Sunday the President and the First Lady Dagmar Havlova laid a wreath at the statue of Czechoslovakia's founding president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk; the presidential couple also visited Prague's memorial commemorating victims of Communism as well as a cemetery for political prisoners. A final stop took place at the statue of St Wenceslas, on Prague's Wenceslas Square, an important symbolic site of events in recent Czech history. The site witnessed both the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and mass demonstrations which led to the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989.
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