Havel risks political backlash over post-election manoeuvres

Vaclav Havel

The role of Czech President is a largely symbolic one, and the head of state enjoys only limited powers to influence the political direction of the country. But the president does play a leading role immediately after the election, as it's he who decides which party will be the first to try and form a government, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the party that comes first. President Vaclav Havel reminded reporters of that fact on Friday, after meeting representatives of the opposition Coalition. It was a clear message to the major parties, but as Rob Cameron reports, it was also a political gamble that could backfire.

Vaclav Havel
President Havel issued the warning after emerging from talks with leaders of the opposition Coalition - a political grouping said to be close to his heart. Mr Havel said he did not automatically have to ask the winning party to form a government; that task, he said, would be given to the party capable of forming a government with the support of the majority of MPs in parliament.

Vaclav Klaus
Mr Havel has watched the Coalition's position in the opinion polls steadily being eroded over the past six months - once near the top, they're now jostling for third place with the Communists. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats - led by Mr Havel's arch-rival Vaclav Klaus - and the ruling Social Democrats lead the polls, and there are increasing signs the two parties are contemplating forming a coalition government to replace their current power-sharing pact. Such a coalition would be anathema to Mr Havel, and observers say Friday's comments are a clear sign he wants to see the opposition Coalition play some role in the next government.

Vladimir Spidla
Analysts say though that it's a tactic that could backfire. The leader of the Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, says it may be the president's constitutional right to decide whom to give the task of forming a government, but it's his democratic duty to choose the party which wins the greatest number of votes. If Mr Havel refuses to do so after June's elections, he could become an easy target for political opponents and the media alike.