PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ Outgoing Premier Vaclav Klaus easily won re-election as chairman of his party Sunday, increasing the likelihood it will join the opposition until elections early next year.

The weekend congress of the Civic Democratic Party, which has been the largest party in a three-way governing coalition, was called after Klaus was forced to resign Nov. 29 in a finance scandal.

The congress let the new leadership decide whether the party should participate in the next government, the news agency CTK reported. Klaus said before the vote that he preferred to head into ``constructive opposition.''

Participating in a rebuilt conservative coalition with Christian Democrats and the Civic Democratic Alliance would force the party to make unacceptable compromises, he said.

Last week, President Vaclav Havel, who had demanded Klaus' resignation, gave Christian Democrat Josef Lux the go-ahead to try to build a government.

The more liberal Social Democrats, the country's strongest opposition party, are seen as probable winners of early elections, likely to be held in the spring.

Klaus spearheaded the reform of the old communist system, first as finance minister before the breakup of Czechoslovakia, then as Czech premier.

For several years, based on its rapid privatization, Czechoslovakia seemed to be headed for the smoothest transition of any post-Communist country.

But Klaus and his allies were forced to build a minority government after 1996 elections. Political instability and economic problems kept the government weak until it finally collapsed last month.