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Czech Democrats Bid for Power

June 19, 1998

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ Czech voters went to the polls Friday in hopes of electing a stable government capable of ending a stalemate that has stymied their country’s politics for two years.

Heading into Friday’s and Saturday’s parliamentary elections, the Social Democrats appeared poised to win enough votes to form the first left-of-center Czech government since the collapse of communism in 1989.

The center-left party led pre-election polls with more than 20 percent of the vote, at least 5 percent ahead of the second-place Civic Democratic Party of former premier Vaclav Klaus.

Czech President Vaclav Havel cast his ballot Friday at an elementary school near his country residence at Lany, outside Prague, where he is recovering from abdominal surgery.

At stake are all 200 seats in the lower chamber of the Parliament and the chance to form the next Cabinet.

The political impasse began when Klaus, the leader of economic reform, lost his parliamentary majority in 1996 elections. He formed a coalition government but his partners turned against him in a campaign finance scandal, and the coalition collapsed in November.

A caretaker government under banker Josef Tosovsky has run the country since. The elections being held are two years ahead of schedule.

Havel has welcomed the possibility of a new government, one in which young people would play an increasingly active role.

``Change is the essence of democracy,″ said Havel before campaigning ended earlier this week. ``There is no danger of communism returning.″

There was a danger of some politicians losing their dignity, however _ a couple of candidates wagered just that on the outcome of the vote.

Eduard Kremlicka, leader of the populist Pensioners for Secure Living, vowed he would eat a live June bug if his party does not make it to Parliament. Cyril Svoboda, current interior minister and leading Christian Democrat, said he would shave his head.

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