Communists could tip balance in third presidential vote

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It's just over two weeks to go before parliament tries for the third and probably the last time to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel. It's still unclear whether this third attempt will be any more successful than the first two. But what we do know for certain is that once again former prime minister Vaclav Klaus looks to be the strongest candidate, and once again it's the Communist Party which could hold the key to victory. Rob Cameron joins me in the studio now, Rob where do we stand with just over two weeks to go?

"Well the honest answer is that we're no nearer to finding a new president than we were before the last election on January 24th. The situation can be summed up quite simply: the three parties in the ruling coalition are still unable to agree on a candidate capable of defeating Vaclav Klaus. The coalition has a majority in the two houses of parliament - and therefore in theory they're capable of electing anyone they like. But only - and this is the crucial word - only if the three parties maintain absolute discipline. And as we saw in the first two attempts, discipline is weak, particularly in the largest ruling party, the Social Democrats."

How far have the ruling coalition got in finding that compromise candidate?

Jan Sokol, photo: CTK
"They say they're almost there. They've chosen someone called Jan Sokol, a former education minister and professor of philosophy. He's not an official candidate yet, and indeed some members of the ruling coalition - especially in the Social Democrats - have indicated he doesn't enjoy their total support. If that is the case, then we're back to square one."

And I hear Mr Sokol can't rely on support of either of the two opposition parties.

"No. The Civic Democrats will back their candidate Vaclav Klaus to a man. The people who could really tip the balance of this third election are the Communists. Their influence has increased with each attempt to elect a president. But they only wield that influence inside parliament. They know this is their last chance to influence the outcome of the election, because if it comes to a direct vote, they will be left almost irrelevant."

So who will they vote for?

"They've come up with their own list of potential candidates, but none really have a chance. What it will come down is to whether the Communists will support Jan Sokol - if he's still in running in two weeks' time - or Vaclav Klaus. They don't like Jan Sokol because he advocates dialogue with the Sudeten Germans. They're already indicating they will support Mr Klaus, as are - incredibly - some members of the two smaller parties in the ruling coalition. So Vaclav Klaus has a strong chance of becoming president, or at the very least blocking the government's attempt to push through its own candidate. And if that happens, we're almost certainly in for a direct election."