Liberals and Supporters of Unity Are Losers in Czechoslovak Vote

The main losers in Czechoslovakia’s general elections over the weekend were the liberals in the center of the political arena, who presumably received most of the Jewish votes.

Otherwise, the results do not bode well for national unity two years after the so-called “Velvet Revolution” ended 40 years of Communist rule.

They brought into power two strong-minded politicians with agendas so different that their chances of agreeing on a national coalition are regarded here as very slim.

The Czech winner was Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus, whose conservative, free market-oriented Civic Democratic Party amassed just over 33 percent of the ballots cast for the national Parliament. Along with its small ally, the Christian Democrats, it will occupy 83 of the 300 seats in the bicameral legislature in Prague.

Klaus’ party won about 30 percent of the vote cast for the Czechoslovak Parliament, making it the largest single bloc.

Slovak populist Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia also won about a third of the votes for the national Parliament, giving him control of 57 seats. He got 37 percent of the Slovak Parliament, which sits in Bratislava.

Neither Klaus nor Meciar can form a central government without the other. But they differ fundamentally on the future form of Czechoslovakia, on the depth and speed of economic reform, on social as well as on personal issues.

They disagree most sharply on the next chief of state. Klaus insists on the re-election of poet-playwright Vaclav Havel as president. Meciar will not accept another term for Havel, who has been supportive of Israel and has spoken out strongly against the resurgence of anti-Semitism.

The differences between Klaus and Meciar may make it impossible to agree on how to establish national rights, political stability and economic prosperity in both the Czech and the Slovak republics.

14 SEATS FOR FAR-RIGHT PARTY

Neither the Civic Movement in Bohemia and Moravia, components of the Czech republic, nor the Civic Democratic Union in Slovakia managed to scale the threshold of 5 percent of the vote cast necessary to enter Parliament.

Swept away by the political polarization of the electorate were Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier; Defense Minister Lubos Dobrovsky, who has one Jewish parent; Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart; and other former dissidents and political associates of Havel’s.

Another casualty was the federal prime minister, Marian Calfa, and Dagmar Buresova, chairwoman of the Czech National Council.

On the fringes of the political spectrum, Communists in both republics will have a combined bloc of 57 seats in the federal Parliament.

The far-right Republicans, a racist party led by Czech firebrand Miroslav Sladek, will occupy 14 seats.

The separatist Slovak National Party, which demands immediate independence for Slovakia, will be represented by 15 deputies.

But separatist splinter groups, swearing fidelity to the memory of the wartime pro-Nazi Slovakia that was headed by Catholic priest Josef Tiso, a war criminal, were shut out of both the Slovak and federal parliaments by the 5 percent vote minimum.

Nevertheless, The Prague daily Lidove Noviny called the elections the “Black Friday of the federation.”

Most of the rest of the news media was equally pessimistic, even though Klaus and Meciar promise open-mindedness in their upcoming coalition negotiations.

Havel has asked Klaus, as leader of the strongest party, to start negotiations. In a radio address Sunday, the Czech president said that he would stay in the race for the presidency as long as he sees a chance to fulfill his duties in line with political and moral principles he can identify with.

The Czech-Slovak dichotomy, which could lead to dissolution of the 74-year-old Czechoslovak state, is as much a product of economic conditions as of parochial nationalism. The Czech economy is relatively good, with a low rate of unemployment.

In contrast, Slovakia in the east is suffering from the economic trauma that has afflicted much of Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet system.

Slovak heavy industry, especially armaments, no longer has a market in the East. Prague, meanwhile, is restricting the export of weapons to other parts of the world. As a result, the jobless rate is high.

Nearly 88 percent of the 11.3 million voters went to the polls Friday and Saturday.

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