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Europe

Czech Republic Looks to Brussels

The Czech political heart beat to the left over the weekend, as the country's pro-EU social democrats pulled off a significant victory in legislative elections.

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The Czech Republic's new leading face

The Czech Republic’s future in the European Union got a nod of support from its populace over the weekend, when voters overwhelmingly put the pro-EU social democrats in power.

In a vote that many saw as a victory for liberal, outgoing President Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic gave 30.2 percent of their voices to Vladimir Spidla and his social democrats in two-day legislative elections.

The conservative Civic Democrats suffered a severe blow, disappointing by getting only 24.5 percent of the votes. The Civic Democrats' leader, former ex-premier Vaclav Klaus was not entirely in favor of his country’s EU aspirations.

Der tschechische Präsident Vaclav Havel, Wahl

Czech President Vaclav Havel is about to cast his ballot in a Prague polling station on the first day of the Czech general elections, on Friday, June 14, 2002

With the decision on whether to let the Czech Republic into the union of 15 states nearing, membership was the central issue in the tightly contested campaign. Spidla’s social democrats, Havel’s (photo) preferred successors, were overwhelmingly in favor of EU membership. Klaus, an arch-rival of Havel’s, said he would only agree to membership under certain conditions.

Populist ploy doesn't work

One of those conditions was a politically sensitive one for Germany, the largest EU member. Klaus and his civic democrats were concerned membership would mean the end of the Benes Decree.

The decree, issued by President Edvard Benes following WWII, provided a legal basis with which to kick out ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland region in what was part of then-Czechoslovakia.

Many in the republic fear getting rid of the decree will mean a storm of Germans in the region eager to reclaim their old property and possessions. Klaus had sought to tap the populist sentiment against eliminating the decree in his campaign.

But it didn’t appear to have been enough.

Czechs swing to the left

His Civic Democrats polled their lowest numbers since the Velvet Revolution helped end Communism in the Czech Republic in 1989.

It was the successors to the Communist party this time that provided the biggest surprise. The party came in third, with 18.5 percent of the vote, solidifying the overall shift to the left in Prague.

Spidla, 51, is expected to form a coalition government with a two-party centrist alliance known as the Coalition. President Vaclav Havel will meet with Spidla and leaders of the coalition parties Sunday and Monday and is expected to form a new cabinet with them.

The coalition will have a slim majority in the country's legislature, but it will be enough to vote in their preferred presidentidal candidate when President Havel steps down at the end of 2002. The President then chooses the prime minister, who many expect to be Spidla.

The coalition will be "100 percent pro-European" said representatives of the Spidla’s CSSD.

But the path will not be smooth. Though the Czech Republic’s hard-charging, export-driven economy seems primed for EU entry, thorny issues like the Sudentenland and disagreement with Austria over a nuclear power plant remain significant obstacles.

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