The third round of voting in the Czech presidential election taking place in both houses of parliament Wednesday has ended in a stalemate for the two presidential candidates to get through the first two rounds, former prime minister and Civic Democrat Vaclav Klaus, and chairman of the Senate and Christian Democrat Petr Pithart, each trying to replace retiring President Vaclav Havel. Against expectations Vaclav Klaus came out as the strongest candidate in all three rounds. Earlier I asked my colleague Rob Cameron, who was covering the elections, whether Mr Klaus' strong showing was expected:
"I think it is something of a surprise. This morning Petr Pithart, the chairman of the Senate, was being described as the favourite, it seemed he would be able to garner enough support among the deputies and senators to be elected president in the 3rd round - that did not happen, in fact. He was heavily defeated by Vaclav Klaus, the former prime minister, the former leader of the Civic Democrats. Mr Klaus came out far ahead of Mr Pithart; he wasn't elected president but he certainly came out better than Mr Pithart did."
Where do we go from here?
"Well, there will be a second attempt to elect a president that could take place at any time in the next month, so it does seem almost certain now that the Czech Republic will be without a head of state for weeks, if not months."
That election would still utilise the current system of electing a president, of course.
"It would indeed, that would be another parliamentary vote, we're not going to have a popular vote yet, and there's going to be some very, very heavy bargaining over the next few weeks to try and drum up enough support for one candidate to try and make it through."
Given the rather disappointing finish for Petr Pithart in the end, is it likely that he'll get the call the 2nd time around?
"I am really not sure, I think he would be wise to hold talks first of all to make sure he does have enough support to do that, because I think that not only he, but also the governing coalition have been made to look fairly foolish today. As I said he was described as the favourite, a sort of 'compromise' candidate that everyone could accept, someone who it would be possible to negotiate support for? It hasn't happened."
A former high-ranking communist official, Karel Hoffman, has appeared before a Prague court on charges of treason in connection with his role in the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Mr Hoffman, who is now 78, is accused of ordering the stopping of radio broadcasts on the night of the invasion. He said on Wednesday morning that he was not being tried for treason but for his belief in socialism.
The supervisory board the Council for Czech television revealed that 51 candidates have applied for the post of general manager of the public broadcaster. The names of the candidates were made public Wednesday: among those who have applied: former head of Czech TV Dusan Chmelicek; Petr Klimes, the interim head of the broadcaster has also put forward an application. Other names include the former head of Czech Radio Vlastimil Jezek, commentator for the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes Martin Komarek, and former singer as well as TV talk-show host Michal Prokop. Conspicuously absent from the list is one-time general manager of Czech TV Ivo Mathe. The Council for Czech TV now has three months to pick a successor to Jiri Balvin who was recalled from his post in November for poor management.
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.
The Czech tennis player Denisa Chladkova has made it through the second round of the Australian Open in Melbourne. She beat the American Alexandra Stevens 6:2 6:2 to advance to the third round for the second time in her career.
Thursday will be overcast with a chance of showers. Daytime temperatures should reach highs of about 5 degrees Celsius.
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