Press Review

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How are the talks on forming a centre-left government coalition in the Czech Republic really going? Behind encouraging headlines of the type "Coalition agreement expected within a week" and snapshots of party leaders wreathed in smiles, commentators detect problems for the centrist Coalition grouping.

How are the talks on forming a centre-left government coalition in the Czech Republic really going? Behind encouraging headlines of the type "Coalition agreement expected within a week" and snapshots of party leaders wreathed in smiles, commentators detect problems for the centrist Coalition grouping.

The two parties are negotiating from a very weak position and the Social Democrats know they can call the shots, says Lidove noviny. Pravo agrees, noting the confident words of Social Democrat deputy leader Marie Souckova " Our policy programme has been approved by the public - it is now up to the Coalition to compromise". A compromise usually involves two parties, Pravo reminds Mrs. Souckova, adding the Social Democrats would lose nothing by being gracious and not humiliating their potential coalition partners in public.

All the papers have published the full text of the government agenda drafted by the Social Democrats, and Lidove noviny says that it is clearly the agenda of one party only - a plan for a welfare state as dreamed up by Mr. Spidla - and no mention of where the money to finance it is going to come from. Hospodarske noviny quotes the Coalition as saying that they are ready to compromise, rather than let the communists enter the game.

But this is not the sole reason, Pravo writes - being in government is a matter of life and death for the Coalition itself. Forced into opposition, this fragile alliance would disintegrate in no time at all, the paper says. The Freedom Union would certainly not have a future and although the Christian Democrats

would survive there would have to be a thorough shake up in the party leadership. This is the vision that is making the leaders of the Coalition grit their teeth and smile in the face of a bad deal, Pravo notes.

Meanwhile, Mlada fronta Dnes writes that an era is coming to a close. By January of 2003, Vaclav Havel, Vaclav Klaus, Milos Zeman and media mogul Vladimir Zelezny will all have given up their thrones, the paper writes. Egotistic, charismatic, strong-willed and hard-working, they all put their stamp on the past decade. All of them are fighters who commanded respect, evoked admiration and made plenty of enemies. Czech politics will not be the same without them, Mlada fronta Dnes says.

Lidove noviny says pretty much the same thing in a column entitled "Mr. Spidla? Just a normal guy". For some time now there has been a growing public demand for a less arrogant, less controversial political figure and Mr. Spidla is as "normal" as they come - he was in the right place at the right time, says Lidove noviny.

He is not conceited, egocentric or vain. Where his political rivals banged the table and hurled insults, Mr. Spidla smiles and states his position in a calm and reasonable manner. But at the end of the day, he is as emphatic in defending his Swedish-style socialism as Mr. Klaus was in defending Thatcherism. Mr. Spidla may look like your next door neighbour but he's smart and assertive, the paper warns predicting that before we know it Mr. Spidla may have introduced a lot of things we don't like by defending them in a calm and reasonable manner. The role of the opposition will not be an easy one, the paper concludes.