January 2003   česky

In his final New Year's address as president, Václav Havel agreed that the breakup of Czechoslovakia ten years ago was the right thing to do. His only regret was the lack of a referendum among the people, and the businesslike way the operation was carried out among the politicians (himself included). And that was basically it. He offered no assessment of his 13 years in office, only his belief that the next president would be a wise and responsible person. Havel could well be long gone before the country finds out who that person will be. Parliament and the Senate failed to elect his successor in two rounds of voting, with the odds-on-favorite, Senate president Petr Pithart, getting bested by former premier Václav Klaus during the first round. The candidate for the ruling Social Democrats never had a chance in the first place and dropped out early on, as did the Communist candidate. That left the door open to a rematch in the second round between Klaus and the man who succeeded him as premier, Miloą Zeman. The last time these two antagonists squared off they ended up striking a deal akin to "You get the north side, I get the south side." Anxious to head them off this time around, the Populists and Independents nominated Senator Jaroslava Moserová for the second round. A respected translator and former president of UNESCO, Moserová's only real disadvantage was, well, her weather-beaten look. Important was she had the votes in the Senate and that would be pivotal in stopping both Klaus and Zeman. Klaus, who still prefers to be called the Professor, could count on the rock solid support of his party, the Civic Democrats. Zeman had no such luxury with the Social Democrats and quickly went about showing people why he is nicknamed the Badger. While the Professor roamed the halls of Parliament, the Badger turned the office of one supporter into a den and began making promises to everyone who walked into it. He even consorted with the Communists, who saw Zeman as their ticket back to respectability. Klaus, typically, looked down on the whole affair and promised nothing, while Moserová made only one promise: If elected president, the former doctor would stop smoking (which no doubt would have been one promise too many for the chain-smoking Zeman). As the second round of voting drew near, the Zemanites within the Social Democrats began pressuring Premier ©pidla to stop his anti-Zeman charade and openly support the man who had made his career. But ©pidla and the rest of the leadersip would only admit that he was the official candidate of their party and nothing more. Without their backing, Zeman would have no chance. And he didn't. When the first votes were tallied, Klaus had beaten him in Parliament and Klaus and Moserová together womped him in the Senate. Zeman didn't even wait for the offical results to be read and walked out of the room sulking. He probably couldn't bear the thought of the poker-faced Lubomír Zaorálek, the Speaker of Parliament and chief anti-Zemanite for the Social Democrats, announcing his defeat. For the second and third tallies, Klaus was unable to overcome Moserová's block of Senate support and the second round ended without a president being elected. The question now is how to proceed from here. Should there be a third round of voting, the Civic Democrats would still feel bound to Klaus, even though he failed to make it through in the first two rounds. The Zemanites could shift their support to Klaus just to pay back ©pidla and Company, but neither they nor the Communists have any love for the man they could consider responsible for most of the country's ills. Although direct elections are a possibility, nobody can agree on when to do it, how to do it, and so forth. The only thing clear is that when Havel leaves office in early February, there will be no president, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For the first time in the history of the Czech people, the election of the president isn't a done deal. Even Havel, for all his democratic sensibilities, had nurtured a cult of personality that guaranteed his election without any real debate. It harked back to the days of the legendary Masaryk and even the Communists. But finally, democracy has come to the Castle, even if in limited form. And that wasn't the only mark of a new beginning for Czech politics. The day before the second round of voting began, the Senate voted to strip Vladimír ®elezný of immunity from prosecution. The director of TV Nova has been eluding charges that he bilked investors for several years but swore that his election to the Senate had nothing to do with gaining immunity. The moment the Senate took up the issue, however, he stood before his colleagues and pleaded for it in vain. It doesn't look like a last-minute presidential pardon is in the offing, either. Havel took the occasion of his New Year's address to warn against people like ®elezný using politics to escape prosecution. As for all those other people who did get controversial pardons, some of them personally connected to Havel, all the president would say is it's nobody's business but his own.