The four candidates for president are holding talks with deputies and senators in a last-minute effort to drum up support ahead of Wednesday's vote. The two houses of parliament are due to meet in a joint session at Prague Castle to choose a successor to President Vaclav Havel, who steps down in February after 13 years in the post. Observers say the likely outcome of Wednesday's vote is still too close to call, although the Christian Democrats Petr Pithart - chairman of the Senate - appears to be the strongest candidate. However it remains possible that the three-round election will fail to produce a winner, and the whole process might have to be repeated.
Mr Pithart's chances received a boost on Tuesday after parliamentary leaders of the coalition Social Democrats said that if their party's official candidate Jaroslav Bures does not proceed past the first round, the Social Democrats will discuss supporting Mr Pithart in the second. This would theoretically allow Mr Pithart to proceed to the third round, where he would have a good chance of defeating Civic Democrat candidate Vaclav Klaus to become president. Reports also emerged on Tuesday suggesting that some Communist deputies were also ready to support Mr Pithart.
The country's bookmakers say Mr Pithart is the favourite to win on Wednesday, followed in second place by Vaclav Klaus. Betting offices say Mr Pithart's chances were greatly improved by reports of disunity in the Social Democrats, as well as the recent revelations that rival candidate Jaroslav Bures killed a pedestrian in a car accident 15 years ago.
The Senate's mandate and immunity committee has recommended that controversial senator Vladimir Zelezny should have his parliamentary immunity lifted to face charges for fraud. The committee voted 7-5 in favour of the motion, with Communist and Civic Democrat members voting against. The Senate will decide the matter on Thursday. Vladimir Zelezny is the director of the hugely popular commercial television network TV Nova. He is being investigated on a number of fraud charges connected to ownership of the station, all of which occurred before he was elected Senator in October.
Parliament will meet on Thursday to discuss an American request for Czech military support in a possible war against Iraq. The request, unanimously approved by the cabinet on Monday, would allow the temporary deployment of U.S. troops on Czech territory and the reinforcement of the Czech anti-chemical weapons unit currently based in Kuwait. The deployment of Czech troops on foreign soil must be approved by both houses of parliament. The Czech government strongly supports Washington over Iraq, but says it will only take part in military action with the backing of the United Nations.
Wednesday will be cloudy day, with snow in mountainous areas. Temperatures in the daytime will range between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius, falling at night to lows of minus 4 in places.
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