Press Review

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The presidential elections will take place in less than a day's time, and the newspapers are filled with pages of reports on the two presidential candidates, Jan Sokol and Vaclav Klaus, and their chances of winning. Hospodarske Noviny's opinion poll shows that around two thirds of the public would prefer to see Vaclav Klaus elected as president, while a third would like Jan Sokol. But most respondents do not believe that either candidate will be a better president than Vaclav Havel.

The presidential elections will take place in less than a day's time, and the newspapers are filled with pages of reports on the two presidential candidates, Jan Sokol and Vaclav Klaus, and their chances of winning. Hospodarske Noviny'S opinion poll shows that around two thirds of the public would prefer to see Vaclav Klaus elected as president, while a third would like Jan Sokol. But most respondents do not believe that either candidate will be a better president than Vaclav Havel.

Meanwhile, Mlada Fronta Dnes calls the presidential election "The Battle for Prague Castle" - and its opinion poll also shows that the public favours Vaclav Klaus for the presidency, while most of the politicians seem to prefer Jan Sokol. In the newspaper's opinion section, the economist Karel Kriz writes that Mr Sokol should not be elected president because he does not want to and does not know how to be a politician. Sociologist Jirina Siklova, on the other hand, writes in support of Jan Sokol, and she believes that he should be elected because he is a tolerant man who is not corrupt, and he has never been indifferent to developments in Czech society.

But do the politicians really want Mr Sokol? Pravo suggests that there is more to this election than meets the eye, and that for some Social Democrat deputies it may have more to do with whom they want to see at the head of their party rather than whom they want to see at Prague Castle. Friday's vote may seal the fate of this coalition government, the paper says, predicting that the supporters of former Social Democrat prime minister Milos Zeman - who failed to get elected in the second round of presidential elections - may be preparing their revenge.

Leaving the presidential elections aside, we turn to another important issue of the time: the upcoming referendum in the Czech Republic on European Union membership, which will be held in June. Pravo reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sceptical about the eurosceptics, and has not given the group Citizens Against the EU any money for the campaign before the referendum. The ministry has distributed part of a 200 million crown allotment to non-governmental organisations for the campaign, but its spokesperson Vit Kolar says that the anti-EU group did not get anything because it asked for too much money and its project was of a poor quality. Jan Skacel from Citizens Against the EU says that his group will appeal to the European Parliament on the grounds that the ministry's decision suppresses democratic freedoms.

But while the eurosceptics may not be getting any money, Lidove Noviny reports that the Czech Republic is going to increase the amount of money it gives in aid to developing countries. This year the Czech government has set aside 450 million crowns for such aid, but it plans to increase this to two billion crowns in 2007. The intended increase is meant to put the Czech Republic on par with the European Union: while EU member states contribute at least 0.1 per cent of their gross domestic product in aid, the Czech Republic last year contributed under a tenth of that, or only 0.009 per cent.

And as it endeavours to assist the rest of the world more, the Czech government is lending its legislative support to one faraway place - Antarctica. Mlada Fronta Dnes reports that a law was proposed in the lower house of the Czech parliament on Wednesday which would protect the Antarctic environment. It would forbid people from - among other things - spilling waste water to conducting nuclear tests there. According to the Czech Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek, this law will put the Czech Republic in the group of countries that have committed themselves to protecting the continent. So, writes Mlada Fronta Dnes, next time you go to Antarctica, be careful!