Civic Democrats make U-turn, call for direct presidential election

The end of President Havel's term is swiftly approaching and the question who will succeed him continues to make headlines. So far, there are eight candidates, among them the country's ombudsman Otakar Motejl, Senate chairman Petr Pithart and opposition Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus, described by his supporters as the father of economic transformation. But realistically Mr Klaus has little chance of being elected under the current parliamentary system, and the party is now calling openly for the president to be elected directly - a U-turn from previous policy commitments. Pavla Horakova spoke to Civic Democrat vice-chairman Jan Zahradil, and asked him to explain why his party had so suddenly changed its standpoint.

"We are very unhappy about the quality of the possible candidates for the presidential chair after Vaclav Havel and we do think just now that the quality of the candidate and the quality of the next president is more important than the system of elections and therefore if the parliamentary election is blocked - because there will be definitely some political deals - we would like to let the people speak as we think we have the best offer and our candidate could be the best and most representative president."

Are you not afraid that your voters could see that change as inconsistency?

"We will see. I have participated in several public debates concerning that matter and I haven't got the feeling that our voters or supporters see that as a betrayal or something like that. So I think and I hope that they are able to accept, however, of course, I am sure, that if we start with that constitutional change we cannot end with that and we have to continue with other constitutional changes and perhaps to start to reform the whole constitution to find a new equilibrium among the pillars of the constitutional power in the Czech Republic."

Do you think it is still feasible to push through this constitutional change before the presidential election, now the date for the election has been set for January 15th?

"In the case the political will is here, it is definitely feasible and it will be also a certain examination for the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union who always declared they were in favour of a direct presidential vote and now we have the impression that they are trying to delay the whole procedure because they are afraid that our candidate would have a good chance to win in the direct elections."