06-06-2001

The opposition Four-Party Coalition is back in the news and the news is not good. Since March it's lost a third of its supporters and has ceded its place at the top of the ladder to Vaclav Klaus' fellow opposition Civic Democrats. If elections were held today the Civic Democrats would clinch an estimated 28.5% of the vote, the Four-Party Coalition 24% and the governing Social Democrats almost 24%.

Commentators note that under the circumstances the Four-Party Coalition has good reason to fear the 20% vote margin it will need to cross in order to win seats in Parliament. And there is a general consensus that the coalition's petty squabbles are to blame for its sudden fall from grace. If the four right-of-centre parties don't put their house in order and produce a sensible policy programme soon then their easily-won popularity will burst like a bubble, says Zemske Noviny.

Mlada Fronta Dnes has devoted a lot of space to an ongoing controversy over the possibility of electing the President in a direct vote. The Four-Party Coalition, which is in favour of introducing such a change, has drafted proposed legislation to be debated in Parliament. But the paper notes that the bill's chances of winning approval in the lower house are slim, since the Civic Democrats are dead set against the idea and the Social Democrats would need plenty of persuasion.

On a different topic, Zemske Noviny reports that fresh charges are to be brought against three high-ranking former Communist officials. Former interior minister Lubomir Strougal is to be charged in connection with blocking a murder investigation, former Communist Party leader Milous Jakes and former Communist prime minister Jozef Lenart are to be charged with treason in connection with the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops.

The paper notes that the news of fresh charges against former Communist leaders comes in the wake of criticism that the Czech Republic has failed to come to terms with its Communist legacy. 53 people have been charged with crimes committed under the regime, but only nine have been sentenced in the past decade.

The revelation that over a hundred former secret service agents active under the Communist regime were given the all-clear in the interior ministry's post- revolution screening process remains a hot topic. Today's Pravo reports that the interior ministry is now double-checking all of the 150,000 screening certificates it issued, getting through approximately 1,000 a day. Pravo says that the Foreign Ministry has demanded a list of the Communist secret service agents who escaped detection in the first screening. But, the head of the Institute for Protection of Private Data, Karel Neuwirt, has warned that such a move would be in violation of the law on the protection of private data. It is not therefore clear how the interior ministry will proceed in this matter.

And finally, the same daily features the story of a cottage owner who came home and caught a young vandal red-handed - defecating on the carpet in the middle of his living room. Breaking into holiday homes and ruining the interior has become an increasingly popular sport among certain teenage groups and police are rarely able to trace the perpetrators.

This time though the 70-year-old owner took the matter into his own hands. "I told the kid I was either calling the police or I'd give him six of the best." the man told the daily." Not surprisingly he chose the whipping. AFTER he'd cleaned the carpet. I would have done the same with any kid of mine - and then I sat him down and talked some sense into him," the old man said. The teenager reportedly admitted he'd done the dirty deed for a dare.

06-06-2001