Third time lucky for ruling coalition?

Václav Klaus, Jan Sokol, foto: ČTK

It's one day to go until the country's 281 MPs and senators meet at Prague Castle, for parliament's third and final attempt to elect a successor to Vaclav Havel. This time there are just two presidential candidates - former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, nominated by the opposition Civic Democrats, and university professor Jan Sokol, the official candidate of the ruling coalition. But unfortunately for those growing weary of this agonising struggle to find a new president, it's still impossible to say who - if anyone - is going to win. My colleague Rob Cameron joins me in the studio now. Rob - the governing coalition has a majority in both the upper and the lower house - why is this election not a foregone conclusion?

Vaclav Klaus and Jan Sokol, photo: CTK
"That's a question plaguing not only journalists but also politicians themselves, and the answer is far from straightforward. On paper, if you look at it in terms of pure mathematics, that's correct - the government has a wafer-thin majority in the lower house, and a slightly larger majority in the upper house. Jan Sokol could - in theory - be elected in the first round, all he needs is a simple majority in both houses. The thing is, the three-party ruling coalition is not united behind Jan Sokol. The problem is with the biggest party in the ruling coalition, the Social Democrats. At least four, and as many as 18 Social Democrats MPs - if you believe reports in the media - are not going to vote for Jan Sokol on Friday, despite the fact that nearly all the Social Democrat MPs and senators signed his nomination. So in a nutshell, the government cannot rely on its theoretical majority in parliament, which has been the core of the problem all along."

That's the government's candidate Jan Sokol, but what about Vaclav Klaus? What are his chances like?

"Again, it's very hard to say. He - despite being the candidate of the main right-wing opposition party and despite years of harshly attacking everyone to the left of Margaret Thatcher - he will enjoy support of most of the Communist Party on Friday. And the fact that the Communists are now willing to support him tells you a great deal about the cynical nature of Czech politics, but that's beside the point. One of two things could happen to Vaclav Klaus - Jan Sokol could defeat him in both houses, and proceed on his own to the second round, and possibly - I say possibly - be elected president. But if Jan Sokol wins in the upper house and Vaclav Klaus wins in the lower house, which is more likely, then they will face each other in the second and maybe the third round. And with each round Vaclav Klaus's prospects improve, because many MPs - who are really sick and tired of this charade - will simply vote for Vaclav Klaus to get it out of the way. Or, they'll spoil their ballots and no-one will be elected."

So once again the Communists will play a crucial role.

"Absolutely, though it's worth pointing out that even they are not united. Reports the in media seem to suggest that not all of them are willing to vote for Vaclav Klaus, which could play into the hands of Jan Sokol. It's all very hard to preduct I'm afraid."

What's your gut feeling - who do you think will win?

"Until this morning I was - perhaps wrongly - convinced Jan Sokol would pull it off. But there's only one certainty and that it would be a mistake to believe anything you read in the papers, because they got it badly wrong the first two times. I spoke to two leading analysts this morning, and both of them said this election is just too close to call. So really it looks like a three-way tie between Jan Sokol, Vaclav Klaus and no-one."