Leading Article: Czechs squabble for a healthy democracy

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The Independent Culture
THE RESULTS of the Czech election, in which the Social Democrats emerged as the largest single party but well short of an overall majority, have caused concern that the most stable of the former Warsaw Pact countries may now be in for a bout of instability. But if democracy in the Czech Republic is ever to be regarded as more than a temporary phenomenon then, paradoxically, a fragile coalition is just what the country needs.

The Social Democrats now have 74 seats in the 200-seat parliament, reflecting 32.3 per cent of the vote. With the former prime minister Vaclav Klaus's revived Civic Democratic Party gaining 27.7 per cent, and the Communists 10 per cent, the result looks a mess. But with the Christian Democrats - plausible coalition partners for the Social Democrats - winning 20 seats, the Social Democrat leader, Milos Zeman, needs to find only seven more votes to gain a majority in Parliament. Over the next few weeks the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, will play his constitutionally appointed role in attempting to put together a government. During the election campaign President Havel came under criticism for a none-too-subtle election message in which he advised against voting for Mr Klaus, his long-time Prime Minister.

It is wrong to see all this as a sign of the weakness of democracy in the Czech Republic. Rather, it shows that the country, and its political system, is becoming ever more like its Western European neighbours. A minority government may slacken the pace of economic and social reform, but if the political system can cope with the travails of minority government then it will have shown conclusive proof that the Velvet Revolution has lasted and that democracy in the Czech Republic is here to stay. And that is good news not just for the Czechs but for all of Eastern and Central Europe.