Czechs elect Havel president Slovak vote leads to runoff

January 27, 1993|By David Rocks | David Rocks,Contributing Writer

PRAGUE -- Less than one month after the demise of the Czechoslovak federation he sought to preserve, Vaclav Havel was elected president yesterday of one-half of it, the new Czech Republic.

Mr. Havel, the former Czechoslovak president and a leader of the 1989 "Velvet Revolution" that overthrew communism here, was chosen by 109 of the 200 deputies of the Czech Parliament.

Debate was interrupted when a bomb scare forced officials to clear the parliament's chambers for nearly an hour. No bomb was found.

Officials said the threat was traced to a Havel supporter who grew disgusted with some of the anti-Havel comments during the televised debate and said he "couldn't watch that filth anymore."

Mr. Havel, 57, was chosen over Marie Stiborova of the former Communist Party, or Left Bloc, and Miroslav Sladek, the chairman of the right-wing Republican Party. Mr. Havel will take office Feb. 2.

In Slovakia, the other half of the former federation, a first round of presidential elections ended with none of the four candidates being chosen.

Roman Kovac, a deputy premier who is the candidate of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, led with 69 of the 90 votes needed. He will face the runner-up, Milan Ftacnik, the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Left -- the successor to the Communist Party -- in a runoff today.

The 74-year-old Czechoslovak federation dissolved Jan. 1 in the wake of elections last year that saw a right-wing government chosen in the Czech Republic and a left-leaning nationalist government elected in Slovakia.

At a press conference after the vote, Mr. Havel said the Czech Republic's ties with Slovakia were one of the most important issues he would face as president.

"Relations with the Slovaks, especially in this sensitive period, are a priority," Mr. Havel said. "I would like to make my first visit abroad to Slovakia."

Mr. Havel was swept into the Czechoslovak presidency Dec. 29, 1989, just days after the Communist regime stepped down.

When the issue of Slovak separatism came to a head in the middle of last year, Mr. Havel staked his reputation on preserving Czechoslovakia. But in July, after the federal Parliament failed to re-elect him and it appeared that the federation was doomed, he resigned.

When he resigned, Mr. Havel said one reason he failed to keep Czechoslovakia intact was the relatively weak position of the presidency: He could do little more than encourage Czech and Slovak leaders to talk to each other.

Czechs felt a large part of Mr. Havel's charm was the sense that he really had no interest in being president, but that he felt it was his duty.

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