Civic Forum Faces New Hurdles in Prague
Leaders must pass new constitution, tackle tough economic reforms. CZECHOSLOVAKIA
CZECHOSLOVAKIA'S first free elections in 44 years are over, and with a 96 percent voter turnout, this nation passed its democracy test with flying colors. Now the next, and even bigger test - the changing of political and economic structures - begins.
That task is up to the victors of the elections, Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.
Led by President Vaclav Havel, their task is not easy, for in two years a new constitution is to be passed which will redefine Czechoslovakia's federation and the powers of the presidency.
Also, an economic reform program will be introduced which most likely will result in social tension, unemployment, and strikes.
``There is no reason for euphoria,'' wrote the editors of the former underground paper Lidove Noviny, which is close to the Forum.
``Although the elections certainly helped defeat the past, the future is not yet, by far, decided.''
The formation of a new government is the immediate task of Mr. Havel, who has said that its successful conclusion will be a ``political test'' for him.
According to Czechoslovakia's Constitution, the president has the exclusive right of appointment of all members of the federal government.
Havel clearly sees his responsibility in that light, and his work will be difficult, despite the overwhelming election victory of Civic Forum and Public Against Violence.
Together they got 46 percent of the votes and captured 170 seats in the new 300-member parliament.
Civic Forum could form its own government, but it wants to retain a coalition like the present one governing country, saying that a strong and broad government is needed in these crucial times.
But the only coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union, is severely weakened because of infighting following a spy scandal involving one of its leaders and the interior minister. The party won a disappointing third-place finish with only 11.6 percent of the votes, beaten even by the Communists' 13.6 percent.
On top of that, the personal relations between Havel and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Carnogoursky, the leading Slovak Chrisian Democrat, are strained after Mr. Carnogoursky's criticism of Havel's involvement in the election campaign. And Carnogoursky is, in turn, criticized by leading Forum members for his handling of his ministerial duties. Instead, one leading Forum member said, ``Carnogoursky has shown great personal ambitions and a visible lack of responsibility.''
The three Communist members of the present government are sure to go, since Civic Forum has declared that it will not form a coalition with the Communists. Clearly satisfied with their 13.6 percent, a life in opposition awaits the Communists.
They have promised to be constructive and to work within the framework of the democratic system.
But the Communists will be the only opposition party. They will also be the only party on the left, something that many Czechoslovaks, among them the leading writer Ivan Klima, do not find satisfactory. Mr. Klima says that it would be ``healthy and useful'' with both a right-wing and a social-democratic party in parliament. But such parties have no seats there, since only six of the 22 parties managed to win the necessary 5 percent.
At the same time, Civic Forum, with its large mixture of political opinions, could be in for some serious political strains in the difficult years ahead, as Czechoslovakia shifts from communist control to democracy and from state-owned monopoly to a free-market system.
Transition to such an economic system is already under way.
Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus, who most likely will retain his post in the new government, has underlined the necessity of the reforms taking place very soon, including a ``wholesale'' privatization program.
Mr. Klaus has apparently won the battle with Deputy Prime Minister Valtr Komarek. Mr. Komarek, who might not keep his post in the new government, has long fought against the ``shock treatment'' of the Czechoslovak economy proposed by Klaus.
Their drawn-out battle has caused a ``malaise'' in the country, according to a leading Western diplomat. And Civic Forum's Ivan Gabal argues that the Czechoslovak society has paid a ``very high price'' because economic reforms were not launched until February.
Although no one knows if the economic reforms will succeed, there is no other choice - the crisis of the economy is deep.
The coming years will be difficult, but no one can say that the former dissidents have not been given the confidence of the Czechoslovak people and the opportunity to try and bring this once prosperous nation back into Europe.