Czech President Havel fails to win re-election


PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- Czechoslovakia's Parliament rejected yesterday the re-election of President Vaclav Havel, the father of the "Velvet Revolution" that overthrew Communist rule in this country in 1989.

With Slovak deputies casting the decisive vote, Mr. Havel's defeat was widely viewed as another step toward the breakup of the 74-year-old union of Czechs and Slovaks.

"I am not suggesting that there is an absolute correlation between victory for Vaclav Havel and continuing the federation," said Vaclav Klaus, leader of the largest Czech party. "Regardless of my interpretation, that is the way it will be interpreted by the common people in this country."

The vote yesterday was a perfunctory procedure.

After a single two-minute nominating speech, the deputies cast their ballots in secret. Under the rules, Mr. Havel would have had to prevail in all three chambers of the Czechoslovak Parliament. In two ballots, he never came close to getting the number of votes required in the Slovak chamber, and Parliament then adjourned.

As they left the building, Slovak members had to push through a crowd of several hundred jeering, whistling Havel supporters. Some legislators were spat on, and at least one deputy had to be rescued by police from the hostile crowd.

Czechoslovakia has been sliding toward dissolution since elections last month brought a separatist party to power in Slovakia, the country's poorer, eastern region, which has felt the weight of economic reforms.

As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the euphoria of the anti-Communist revolutions in 1989 has been overtaken by the more narrowly focused issues of nationalism.

Mr. Havel was the only candidate yesterday, and he is barred from the next round of voting, scheduled for July 16. But it seemed unlikely that his political career is at an end. He could be nominated again if a third round is required, and has said he would be interested in the presidency of an independent Czech republic if the breakup of the country proceeds.

If Parliament cannot agree on a successor, Mr. Havel can hold office as a caretaker as late as Oct. 5, which is just after the Sept. 30 deadline set by Czech and Slovak political leaders for deciding how, or whether, to dissolve the federation.

Mr. Havel, a playwright and a founder of the Charter 77 dissident movement, was frequently jailed by the Communists. But in 10 days in November of 1989, Mr. Havel was the leader as hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks thronged the streets and forced the Communist government from office.

Elections followed in June of 1990, and Mr. Havel's allies easily defeated the newly formed Slovak separatist parties. But a new Slovak leader, Vladimir Meciar, arrived on the scene.

Mr. Meciar, a former Communist, was forced from his post as Slovak premier in 1991, but he returned in elections last month to win a plurality as head of the newly formed Movement for Democratic Slovakia.

On election eve, Mr. Havel gave a speech that was widely interpreted as attacking Mr. Meciar, who declared that he would prevent Mr. Havel from retaining the presidency.

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