The governing Social Democrats have chosen former party leader Milos Zeman
as their candidate for next Friday's second attempt to find a successor to
President Vaclav Havel. A first vote on Wednesday proved inconclusive. The
two smaller parties in the governing coalition, the Christian Democrats
and the Freedom Union, have said however they will not support Mr Zeman
for president. Neither party has yet announced a candidate of their own,
but the Christian Democrats have said Petr Pithart, their unsuccessful
candidate in Wednesday's vote, will not be standing again.
Apart from Mr Zeman, the only other candidate so far is the opposition Civic Democrats' Vaclav Klaus, who did best in Wednesday's vote. The Communist Party are not expected to field a candidate, and are planning to hold talks about possible support with the parties who are putting a candidate forward.
President Vaclav Havel met senior German politicians, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Johannes Rau, on a visit to Berlin on Friday. Mr Havel also presented Czech state decorations to five people who had worked to improve Czech-German relations, including two Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. President Havel steps down on February 2 after 13 years in office.
Leaders of the parties in parliament have agreed to hold a second presidential election on January 24th. A first attempt on Wednesday ended inconclusively. The Christian Democrats have announced Wednesday's candidate, Senate chairman Petr Pithart, will not be standing in the next elections. The Civic Democrats' candidate will once again be Vaclav Klaus, who won the most votes on Wednesday. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's Social Democrats are due to choose their candidate on Saturday, with some elements in the party lobbying strongly for former leader Milos Zeman.
While the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats are calling for a change in the constitution to allow for direct presidential elections, representatives of the Social Democrats and the Communist Party said on Thursday they would prefer to first try a second parliamentary vote. In a statement the Civic Democrats said they were prepared for either a second parliamentary vote or a direct election, and would support no other candidate than Vaclav Klaus.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Zdenek Skromach, has said that his Social Democratic Party's former leader, Milos Zeman, is the only person who could defeat the Civic Democrats' Vaclav Klaus in a presidential election. Mr Klaus was the most successful of four candidates in a first presidential vote on Wednesday, but did not receive enough support to win. One wing of the Social Democrats supports Mr Zeman, and did not obey current party leader Vladimir Spidla's call to vote for the Christian Democrats' Petr Pithart after the Social Democrats' own candidate did not make it out of the first round on Wednesday. Mr Spidla and the other two parties in the governing coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, are opposed to Mr Zeman standing. The Social Democrats are to decide on Saturday on their candidate for a second presidential vote. Party leaders are to meet on Friday to discuss when such a vote will be held.
Parliament will meet on Thursday to discuss an American request for Czech military support in a possible war against Iraq. The request, unanimously approved by the cabinet on Monday, would allow the temporary deployment of U.S. troops on Czech territory and the reinforcement of the Czech anti-chemical weapons unit currently based in Kuwait. The deployment of Czech troops on foreign soil must be approved by both houses of parliament. The Czech government strongly supports Washington over Iraq, but says it will only take part in military action with the backing of the United Nations.
The third round of voting in the Czech presidential election taking place
in both houses of parliament Wednesday has ended in a stalemate for the
two presidential candidates to get through the first two rounds, former
prime minister and Civic Democrat Vaclav Klaus, and chairman of the Senate
Christian Democrat Petr Pithart, each trying to replace retiring President
Vaclav Havel. Against expectations Vaclav Klaus came out as the strongest
candidate in all three rounds. Earlier I asked my colleague Rob Cameron,
who was covering the elections, whether Mr Klaus' strong showing was
"I think it is something of a surprise. This morning Petr Pithart, the chairman of the Senate, was being described as the favourite, it seemed he would be able to garner enough support among the deputies and senators to be elected president in the 3rd round - that did not happen, in fact. He was heavily defeated by Vaclav Klaus, the former prime minister, the former leader of the Civic Democrats. Mr Klaus came out far ahead of Mr Pithart; he wasn't elected president but he certainly came out better than Mr Pithart did."
Where do we go from here?
"Well, there will be a second attempt to elect a president that could take place at any time in the next month, so it does seem almost certain now that the Czech Republic will be without a head of state for weeks, if not months."
That election would still utilise the current system of electing a president, of course.
"It would indeed, that would be another parliamentary vote, we're not going to have a popular vote yet, and there's going to be some very, very heavy bargaining over the next few weeks to try and drum up enough support for one candidate to try and make it through."
Given the rather disappointing finish for Petr Pithart in the end, is it likely that he'll get the call the 2nd time around?
"I am really not sure, I think he would be wise to hold talks first of all to make sure he does have enough support to do that, because I think that not only he, but also the governing coalition have been made to look fairly foolish today. As I said he was described as the favourite, a sort of 'compromise' candidate that everyone could accept, someone who it would be possible to negotiate support for? It hasn't happened."
The four candidates for president are holding talks with deputies and senators in a last-minute effort to drum up support ahead of Wednesday's vote. The two houses of parliament are due to meet in a joint session at Prague Castle to choose a successor to President Vaclav Havel, who steps down in February after 13 years in the post. Observers say the likely outcome of Wednesday's vote is still too close to call, although the Christian Democrats Petr Pithart - chairman of the Senate - appears to be the strongest candidate. However it remains possible that the three-round election will fail to produce a winner, and the whole process might have to be repeated.
The country's bookmakers say Mr Pithart is the favourite to win on Wednesday, followed in second place by Vaclav Klaus. Betting offices say Mr Pithart's chances were greatly improved by reports of disunity in the Social Democrats, as well as the recent revelations that rival candidate Jaroslav Bures killed a pedestrian in a car accident 15 years ago.
Both houses of the Czech parliament will begin the process of electing a successor to President Vaclav Havel on Wednesday. The former playwright's second and final term will end on February 2. There are four official candidates for the post, but it is likely none of them will get enough votes in the parliament. To win in the first round the candidate needs 142 votes out of 281. Czech Television is going to broadcast Wednesday's session of Czech parliament live from Prague Castle, where all senators and MPs will meet to choose a new head of state.
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