News Saturday, JUNE 20th, 1998

Radio Prague E-News Date: June 20, 1998, 2000 UTC Written/read by: Libor Kubik

These are the main Czech stories this hour. I am Libor Kubik and here's the news in more detail.


Czech President Vaclav Havel on Saturday set a series of meetings with four party leaders for Monday to discuss forming a government following this weekend's general elections.

As usual, Havel refused to meet the Communists whom he considers undemocratic and extremist.

Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman, chairman of the centre- left party which is heading for victory, will probably be the first to be asked by the president to attempt to form a cabinet

However, Havel's political advisor Jiri Pehe said on Saturday this does not automatically mean that Zeman will be prime minister. He said that if Zeman's attempt fails, the president may ask someone else to perform this task.


Exit polls by two television stations at the end of voting on Saturday in an early Czech general election showed the centre- left Social Democrats winning, but no likely coalition commanding a majority in the powerful lower house.

An exit poll by public Czech Television with the IFES agency showed the Social Democrats with over 32 percent of the vote, followed by the Civic Democratic Party of former premier Vaclav Klaus with nearly 28 percent and rising. The Communists were third with under 11 percent, followed by the centrist Christian Democrats with almost nine, the centre- right Freedom Union just under eight, the ultra-right Republicans' fate was in balance with less than four percent, and the leftist Pensioners Party had about three percent of the vote.

An exit poll by private channel TV Nova with the Sofres-Factum polling agency showed nearly similar results.

Parties must win five percent of the vote to take seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament.

The election was called two years ahead of schedule in response to the collapse of the centre-right coalition government last November over a funding scandal in Mr Klaus's ODS party.

The exit polls suggest that the Social Democrats, together with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union could be able to form a majority government. Among them, they could win 108 seats in the lower house.

A right-of-centre coalition of the ODS, Freedom Union and Christian Democrats could command 101 seats under the Czech TV poll but deep animosities between the parties' leaders would make this bloc difficult to assemble.

A grand coalition of Social Democrats and the ODS is still in the game, although both parties have ruled out this option.

Voting was brisk on both days, and a senior electoral commission official told CTK news agency that well over 70 percent of eligible voters had come to the polls.

Contending for 200 parliamentary seats were 3,700 candidates representing 13 parties.


Most senior politicians voted on Friday afternoon. President Vaclav Havel and the First Lady were said to have demonstrated a plurality of political orientation, when each of them reportedly chose a different party.

Our correspondent says that the Havels may have violated the election law when they spent a few moments together in the polling booth. But a Central Election Committee's official was quoted as saying the legitimacy of their votes cannot be questioned because the votes, once cast, cannot be told apart from the rest of the cards. The First Couple voted at Lany outside Prague, where the president is recuperating from a serious illness and multiple surgeries earlier this year.

Havel's spokesman Ladislav Spacek said the president will start government-formation talks with senior leaders on Monday, after the announcement of the official results of the Czech early election.

Ex-premier Vaclav Klaus cautioned voters not to allow a swing to the left. He voted in a polling station near his home in northern Prague.

Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman cast his vote on Friday afternoon in Ostrava, the northern Moravian coal and steel city, where he had been campaigning. He told correspondents he would be happy with anything over 30 percent of the votes cast in favour of his left-of-centre party.


Economic analysts say the early election estimates are slightly more favourable than had been expected by the financial markets.

The analysts believe that investors could be satisfied, provided that a new government is formed quickly.

Experts predict a slight drop in the crown's exchange rate but they do not expect any concerted attack against the Czech currency.


The international television Cable News Network has opened a Czech election page on the Internet.

In one of the reports featured there, CNN notes that the campaign was dominated by personalities rather than by serious discussions on relevant issues. The station said rivalry among parties' leaders had further complicated the prospects of the early formation of a stable government.

Financial markets were nervous and the Czech crown has weakened over the past few days. CNN predicts a further slump in the crown's exchange rate in case of an inconclusive election.

According to the CNN, most analysts agree that political instability and a hung parliament would be even more damaging for the Czech Republic than the emergence of a left-wing administration.


About two thirds of the Czech Republic's eligible prison population of 16,500 took part in the elections. This according to Prison Service Director Jiri Maly.

He told CTK that voting in Czech correctional institutions had proceeded without any incidents.


The Police President's spokeswoman Ivana Moosova said on Saturday that the voting had been largely peaceful on both polling days, and no serious incidents had been reported.

The only complication, she said, was a series of anonymous bomb scares during the morning hours of Friday, that is before the polling stations opened at mid-day.

Police had posted extra guards in all strategic locations throughout the Czech Republic.


Papers in neighbouring Germany were critical on Saturday of President Vaclav Havel's interventions into the course of the elections.

Die Welt reacted to Havel's letter to ex-premier Klaus, whose content was leaked to the media last week. In it, Havel had alleged that Social Democrat leader Zeman was too tired and exhausted to be premier in the new government.

Zeman said last week he was fit and would form a cabinet if asked to do so and pending election results.

The paper quotes a number of news analysts as saying the purpose of Havel's letter was to lessen the Social Democrats' chances, undermine Zeman's position, or even to split the Social Democrat party.


In other news, President Havel was unwell at the start of this week, according to Miroslav Cerbak, head of the presidential medical team.

Cerbak said the president complained of fatigue and other unspecified health problems shortly after the wedding of his wife Dagmar's daughter Nina at Lany Castle.

Mr Cerbak -- an outgoing deputy health minister -- told private TV NOVA that Havel is still prone to infections.

The president suffered a ruptured intestine and lung problems while on a private holiday in Austria last April. Part of his bowel was removed and a colostomy bag applied in a clinic in Innsbruck.

Havel is scheduled to undergo further surgery in the middle of July, to remove his artificial bowel outlet.


Tourists from the Czech Republic literally inundated border crossings to the neighbouring Austria early this weekend.

Austrian customs officials say waiting times in most road checkpoints now amount to one and a half hours on average.

Most Czech cars are reportedly packed with holiday-makers heading for the sunlit Italy and Croatia.

However, many of the visitors are travelling to Vienna, to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II, who has begun his visit to Austria -- his 83rd foreign trip since ascending on Saint Peter's Throne.


Finally, a look at the weather. It was just balmy on both polling days, with temperatures in their mid-twenties and very little rain.

Temperature lows on Saturday night will be between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius, Sunday's afternoon highs between 26 and 30 degrees.

And that's the end of the news.