News Monday, NOVEMBER 23rd, 1998

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Welcome to RP. Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail read by DL

Elections marked by low turnout

Different interpretations are being put on the exceptionally low turnout in this weekend's Senate elections, in which less than 20% of eligible voters turned up to cast their ballot. Right wing parties triumphed, although they remain divided by personal animosities. The two strongest parties, the Civic Democrats of Vaclav Klaus and the governing Social Democrats of Milos Zeman, who are linked by a controversial "opposition agreement" retained their three-fifth majority in the Upper Chamber, despite loosing ground to the four party coalition which is standing in opposition to them. This "quad coalition" of four small centre right parties did surprisingly well, and its leaders suggest that their victory should be attributed to voter dissatisfaction with the existing "opposition pact" between the two strongest parties.

Others suggest that disgruntled Czechs stayed away from polling stations to express their opposition to the Senate as such, which they consider a dispensable, luxury for a country undergoing painful reform. And some even suggest that the freezing temperatures may have had something to do with it.

Havel says senators well chosen

Commenting on the election outcome in a radio interview, President Havel said that apart from the low turnout he was satisfied that those politically aware citizens who had gone to the polls had chosen wisely. Obviously personalities triumphed over party preferences and I feel that is a very good thing, president Havel said, adding that wise and trustworthy politicians rather than parties could help the Senate's ailing reputation.

Zeman says "heads will roll"

Meanwhile, Social Democrat leader and head of the Czech Cabinet Milos Zeman openly admitted his party's defeat in these elections and promised that "heads would roll" in consequence. A fair number of our candidates fell through, and they fell though not because of the Social Democratic Party but due to their own incompetence. They will be asked to acknowledge this failure and step down. The party's mistake was in selecting the wrong candidates, Zeman said. Party vice-chairwoman Petra Buzkova suggested there were probably more reasons for the party's stunning defeat, saying the party should seriously think about them and learn from its mistakes.

President out to punish rumour mongers

President Havel and his wife Dagmar are pressing charges against two Czech newspapers, private TV NOVA and the author of an unauthorized book which dwells on the presidential couple's private life. The three mentioned media outlets have repeatedly published allegations that the couple's marriage is coming apart.

Havel - mediator

President Havel is to host a meeting between Cardinal Miloslav Vlk and culture minister Pavel Dostal at Lany Chateau on Monday. The meeting is to help break a deadlock in talks between the Church and State after the two sides failed to agree on the nominees to a joint commission which is to address vital questions such as the position of the Church in society, its financing and restitution rights.

Renewing old friendships

Prime minister Zeman leaves for a one day visit to Slovakia early on Monday accompanied by a third of the Cabinet. The make up and size of the delegation are seen as signs that the chill in Czech Slovak relations is over and both sides are determined to re-build the close relationship they once had. The two sides have likewise expressed determinations to resolve their differences over the division of federal property after the break up of Czechoslovakia.

And finally a look at the weather : no significant change there. Monday is expected to be another cold day with occasional snow showers and day temp ranging from minus two to plus two degs C. Nighttime lows minus 4 to minus 8 degs.