Press Review

The outcome of Sunday's runoff elections for one third of the seats in the Senate figures prominently on the front and editorial pages of all of the Czech dailies. Commentators examine why the left wing has done so poorly, and what effects this debacle will have on future political developments.

All papers note that the Four Party Coalition is the easy winner of the Senate elections and that its election gains have frustrated the efforts on the part of the power-sharing Social and Civic Democrats to enforce a change of the constitution by curtailing the powers of President Vaclav Havel.

An irritated Vaclav Klaus grabbed a journalist's mobile phone and threw it against a wall on election night. His fellow Civic Democrat, the defeated senatorial candidate Petr Stepanek, blames not himself but the Senate for his defeat, although minutes earlier he was eager to grab a seat. The ousted chairwoman of the Senate, Libuse Benesova, slams voters for choosing her rival Petr Pithart, whom she labels a do-nothing. Social Democrat leader Milos Zeman avoids the TV cameras. This, according to LIDOVE NOVINY, is the sad picture of an establishment whose days are numbered because the people have spoken. A sad situation, indeed, the paper says. The leaders of the strongest two parties show they are unable to concede defeat. Too bad for the future of the Czech political scene, laments LIDOVE NOVINY.

MLADA FRONTA DNES believes that this, together with the meagre gains for the Civic Democrats in the second round of the voting, effectively spells the end of the tolerance pact between the two parties. The so-called 'opposition agreement', the paper predicts, may survive for some time on life support in intensive care, but it has clearly lost its appeal for those who patched it together in an effort to secure a carefree political existence for themselves. The people have spoken and their verdict is: down with power-sharing pacts!

ZEMSKE NOVINY and CESKE SLOVO point out in a joint editorial that the Four Party Coalition's landslide should be ascribed to a negative vote, i.e. a situation when people vote against something rather than for something. The poor results of the Communist Party is a case in point, the paper writes. They had eight candidates running in the second round of voting, but none of them succeeded. The Civic Democrats did poorly in the runoff simply because their electorate was stable yet sequestered from the rest of the nation. So they couldn't have possibly hoped for the undecided to switch their allegiance to them in the second round.

LIDOVE NOVINY believes that although the Civic Democrats enjoy a solid membership base, their ideology is fast losing attraction for potential new recruits. The paper dismisses allegations by leading Civic Democrat officials that there was a conspiracy against their party, with all their rivals plotting against them during the election campaign.

And finally in this all-electoral edition of Press Review, PRAVO reports that the small town of Hrusov north of Prague has been nicknamed Palm Beach Hrusov for its crucial role in Sunday's runoff. In the Mlada Boleslav district, Civic Democrat candidate Jaroslav Mitlener ran neck and neck with his opponent Jiri Dienstbier, an independent on the Social Democrat ballot. With all votes from the district long counted, the electoral commission in Prague had to wait for hours for the results from Hrusov. It took hours to ascertain that Mr Dienstbier, a former Czechoslovak foreign minister currently serving as a United Nations human rights envoy in former Yugoslavia, had lost to his challenger by an unbelievably tiny fraction of one percentage point--111 votes to be exact.

Author: Libor Kubík
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