Press Review

The human genome, the sheer speed with which President Havel vetoed a controversial amendment to the electoral law, and polling agencies fear they may not have enough money to fund approval rating surveys. These are the leading stories in the Czech papers today. Tuesday's Press Review was written by Libor Kubik.

The cracking of the human genetic code is the leading international story today. MLADA FRONTA DNES lists all the benefits the unravelling of the genome mystery could bring. For instance, the breakthrough discovery will make it possible to tailor medicines to an individual patient. It could eliminate many hereditary diseases such as asthma or haemophilia, and people could live much longer. But the paper admits that as with any new technology, there are some major ethical issues which need to be examined, especially since understanding the genome sequence appears to give humans the key to unlocking the very secrets of life. Seen from the practical angle, the paper says, what the world now has is a complete set of spare parts. Now the trick is to figure out how to put them together to build a car -- and this may be a very tough nut to crack.

But most papers today lead with President Vaclav Havel's decision to veto a controversial amendment to the electoral law, which, all papers agree, paves the way for a showdown with party leaders in the Constitutional Court.

According to PRAVO, the speed with which the president vetoed the amendment will significantly accelerate the legislative process. The paper predicts that the lower house, to which the bill has been returned from Prague Castle, could overturn the presidential veto before the end of its current session. The case would then be quickly presented to the Constitutional Court in Brno, since President Havel is not alone in his vocal opposition against the narrowly passed legislation.

HOSPODARSKE NOVINY suggests that the two parties which drafted the amendment -- the ruling Social Democrats and the main-opposition Civic Democrats -- are strong enough to defeat the presidential veto in the lower house while the Constitutional Court may find it difficult to offer sufficiently plausible arguments against the bill. However, a lot has changed since the amendment was hatched two years ago. The two parties' goal -- a majority cabinet -- may be difficult to achieve now, the paper points out, because the Civic Democrats face a formidable rival in the form of the coalition of four centre-right parties, and the Communists have better poll ratings than the Social Democrats.

Talking about poll ratings -- LIDOVE NOVINY predicts that the new election system, if and when it's introduced, will pose formidable problems to polling agencies. Conducting public opinion surveys in 35 electoral districts for the lower house instead of the current eight districts would be very expensive, the paper warns. It quotes Jan Hartl, director of the STEM polling agency, as saying that while it costs hundreds of thousands of crowns to carry out a poll in eight districts, the costs of conducting parallel surveys in 35 districts would run into millions of crowns. Technically, we see no problems, Hartl claims, but who will pay the costs? A credible, serious survey on this scale would require the participation of at least five thousand respondents. STEM currently works with samples of about 1,600 respondents and the other two agencies -- IVVM and Sofres-Factum -- with even fewer individuals polled. The two commercial polling agencies -- STEM and Sofres-Factum -- can hardly afford to pay any more, and the IVVM would be completely out of the game, as it is funded by the government, the paper notes.

Author: Libor Kubík
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