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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Czech election guide
Election poster in Prague
Civic and Social Democrats tell voters they'll do a deal
Czechs are voting on Friday on Saturday in a general election that seems certain to replace the existing minority government with a majority coalition.

The left-wing Czech Social Democratic Party of Milos Zeman won most votes in the 1998 election, over 32% of the total. But then both Mr Zeman and his conservative rivals failed to cobble together a coalition.

President Vaclav Havel
President Havel has criticised the Opposition Agreement

Hence a deal was struck, under which the right-wing Civic Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus undertook not to topple the Zeman government, in return for key parliamentary posts.

President Vaclav Havel was highly critical of the so-called Opposition Agreement. He said it undermined democracy and destroyed competition.

He has hinted he might use his powers to scupper another such accord.

Grand coalition?

This time round sees the same two big parties lined up against each other.

Opinion polls have consistently put them neck-and-neck with 26-28% each, way ahead of their nearest rivals.

Latest polls
Social Democrats (28% / 29.9%)
Civic Democrats (24% / 27.8%)
Coalition (16% / 18%)
Communists (12% / 14.3%)

A recent remark by Mr Klaus that he still regards the Social Democrats as potential partners provoked speculation about a grand coalition.

However, the Social Democrats' new leader, Vladimir Spidla, has insisted he will refuse to serve with Mr Klaus and his party.

Mr Spidla replaced Mr Zeman as party leader in April 2001.

Communists ruled out

Commentators believe either Mr Spidla or Mr Klaus will become the next prime minister.

If they decide not to team up - and almost 60% of Czechs are against the idea - then they will have to look elsewhere.

Next in line, averaging about 15% apiece, are the Communists, led by Miroslav Grebenicek, and the so-called Coalition.

The Coalition is an electoral alliance of the Christian Democrats, headed by Cyril Svoboda, and Hana Marvanova's right-wing Freedom Union.

While all five parties look set to enter parliament, only four are tipped as potential government partners. This is because no-one wants to join forces with the Communists.

Latest polls

Two surveys published days before the election appear to show a clearer picture, with the Social Democrats (28% and 29.9%) leading the Civic Democrats (24% and 27.8%).

The same polls show the Coalition in third place (16% and 18%) followed by the Communists (12% and 14.3%).

The newspapers which commissioned the polls said the most likely outcome now was a majority government composed of the Social Democrats and the two Coalition parties.

As many as 29 parties are competing for seats. The also-rans likely to win just 1-3% of the vote include a pro-pensioner party, the Greens and a far-right anti-foreigner party.

Europe

The country's plans to join the EU have been highlighted during the campaign, with the number of Czechs who would vote against accession in a referendum on the rise.

This is attributed to a row over the Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the deportation and expropriation of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II.

Vaclav Klaus
Vaclav Klaus: Still regards the Social Democrats as potential partners

German and Austrian politicians want them rescinded, claiming they are in conflict with EU law, while the Czechs insist on retaining them.

The two main protagonists, Mr Klaus and Mr Spidla, clashed over the EU and the Benes Decrees in a final TV debate at the weekend.

Both want the Czech Republic to join the EU, but differ over "guarantees" for Czech territorial integrity and property rights.

Mr Klaus is sceptical about the EU's ability to provide such guarantees.

Mr Spidla is more optimistic and later told the Pravo newspaper that EU membership was the only way to keep the Germans at bay.

Feel-bad factor

Most Czechs (61%) are unhappy with the political situation, according to a poll at the end of May.

Besides Europe and the Germans, another worry for voters is immigration, with the Right talking of tougher legislation.

The parties are split over issues such as spending, jobs and pensions.

The Social Democrats are aiming at full employment and will create 200,000 new jobs if in power. The Communists also campaign on labour issues.

The Civic Democrats prefer to stress individual freedom, economic prosperity and minimum state intervention.

Just days before the poll, the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats, partners in the Coalition, set conditions for cabinet entry.

The government must be clearly pro-European, fight corruption, lower taxes and support families with children.

The two big players immediately voiced reservations, especially over tax reduction.

The results could be known as early as Saturday evening.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

12 Jun 02 | Europe
04 Jun 02 | Europe
24 Apr 02 | Europe
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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