Havel Rejected

July 08, 1992

The Czech Republic has two-thirds of Czechoslovakia's people, three-fourths of its gross national product and four-fifths of its foreign investment. Unemployment is 3 percent there, and 11 percent in the Slovak Republic. Small wonder the Slovaks last month gave the most votes to a party committed to independence. And small wonder that the Czech Republic is better equipped for a separate future than is Slovakia.

The Czechoslovakian parliament probably doomed federal Czechoslovakia. In a complicated process designed to provide veto power to each nationality, it rejected Vaclav Havel's continuation as president, against no opponent. Most of the people, according to opinion polls, want the federal republic to hang together. Most members of parliament wanted Mr. Havel to continue as president. But that's not the way it works. (And in each case, that "most" was a paper-thin majority.)

The defeat of Mr. Havel was a veto by a majority of the minority Slovak deputies. Vladimir Meciar, the Slovak leader, is an old Communist who wants independence because the Czech-driven free market reforms have impoverished Slovakia. But he is also getting back at the man who lead the "velvet revolution" that toppled the Communists.

Yet the Czech leader Vaclav Klaus, architect of the economic reforms, is playing a cagey game of his own to hasten the split. His intransigence helped drive the Slovaks to secessionism. In the parliamentary procedure, when Mr. Havel was defeated, the parliament could have waited two weeks before voting again, during which an agreement might have been brokered. Instead, with Mr. Klaus urging speed, it re-voted immediately with the same result. Mr. Havel is ineligible for the third ballot on July 16. If no president is elected, he can be a candidate again on a fourth ballot.

Meanwhile, Mr. Havel is caretaker president until October -- after the Sept. 30 deadline that the separate Czech and Slovak parliaments have for deciding whether to divide the country, and how.

Mr. Havel is still the most prestigious figure in Czechoslovakia. He is still the playwright of the absurd who thrilled the world in talking the Communist regime into collapse in ten days of November 1989. But democracy is a system where they can throw out yesterday's hero. The rejection of Mr. Havel was a vote to dissolve Czechoslovakia. It will be hard to undo.


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