News Sunday, JUNE 21st, 1998

Radio Prague E-News Date: June 21, 1998, 1300 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.


The Czech Central Election Committee confirmed on Sunday that the opposition Social Democrats have won the weekend's parliamentary election, taking over 32 percent of the vote -- more than any other party in the new legislature.

It is the Social Democrats' first election victory in 78 years but the general feeling is one of a deadlock.

The Social Democrats of Milos Zeman, who won 74 seats in the 200-seat lower house in the first vote counting, immediately laid claim to the right to lead a new coalition government.

Zeman told Czech Radio on Sunday that his party will not give support to any right-wing coalition government.

But observers say that with Czech politics deeply fragmented, the Social Democrats may be unable to muster support for a workable coalition.

No party won a clear majority. Next largest party in parliament will be the conservative ODS of former premier Vaclav Klaus, which won nearly 28 percent of the vote and 63 seats -- far more than expected following the collapse of Klaus's government last November.

The largely unreformed Communists, with whom no party wants to form a coalition, was third on 11 percent with 24 seats, ahead of the centrist Christian Democrats on nine percent and 20 mandates, and the rightist Freedom Union with over 8.5 percent of the vote, which secures 19 parliamentary seats for them.


Czech voters clearly rejected two extreme parties that had been expected to benefit from protest votes in the general election.

The ultra-right Republicans, who have been in every parliament since the fall of communism, were booted out, failing to win enough votes to secure seats.

The leftist single-issue Pensioners' Party, whose strong opinion poll support evaporated at the ballot box, also failed to win any seats.

In all, 13 parties were on the ballot, but only five passed the five-percent threshold needed to win seats in the lower house.

Seats not allocated to parties under the threshold were distributed proportionally to those surpassing the minimum.

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.


President Vaclav Havel meets the main party leaders on Monday and is likely to appoint one of them, probably Mr Zeman, to try to put together a cabinet, but analysts expect the horsetrading to be protracted.

The Czech Constitution does not specify whom Havel must ask to lead the talks but it would normally be the head of the largest party, which means Mr Zeman could be asked.

As expected, Havel refused to meet the Communists in spite of their high election gains. He considers the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia undemocratic and extremist.

Havel's political adviser Jiri Pehe says the first round of talks may not bring instant results. He says however that the president will make every effort to expedite negotiations.

Official results of this weekend's vote 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 would muster 113 seats in the lower house, but this combination is bitterly opposed by the Freedom Union.

A right-of-centre coalition of the ODS, Freedom Union and Christian Democrats would command 102 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.


Economic analysts say the early election results 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.


Two main Czech national newspapers ran special editions on Saturday and Sunday, devoted to parliamentary elections.

Both Mlada Fronta Dnes and Lidove Noviny point out that the Social Democrats may have collected the largest number of votes but they have not actually won the election and their participation in the next cabinet is questionable.

Lidove Noviny opines that the election losses suffered by the single-issue Pensioners' Party give Czechs good marks for political maturity and intelligence.

Mlada Fronta Dnes hails the debacle of Miroslav Sladek's ultra-nationalist Republicans. Their disappearance from the lower house, it wrote, is a major victory of this nation over a handful of dangerous political clowns.

The paper also believes the large number of votes in favour of the ODS means that Czechs have given one more chance to the right.


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

Temperatures on Sunday afternoon will be between 26 and 30 degrees.

Monday will be a wet day with occasional thunderstorms and daytime temperatures between 20 and 24 degrees in the west, and 24 to 30 Celsius in the east of the Czech Republic.

And that's the end of the news.