Czechoslovakia's First Free Vote Havel's Campaigning Boosts Civic Forum
Klas Bergman,, The Christian Science Monitor
AFTER 44 years, Czechoslovakia is again holding free elections.
About 85 percent of the 11.3 million voters are expected to go to the polls today and tomorrow to choose among 22 political parties, following President Vaclav Havel's call to take part in the democratic process.
"With your participation, you will vote for democracy and freedom, for hope and truth," said Mr. Havel in a television speech on the eve of the elections. "With your nonparticipation, you will express your longing for old times."
Since May 10, when Havel canceled a slew of foreign visits to stay at home and concentrate on Czechoslovakia's internal problems, the president has thrown himself into the election campaign with gusto.
Using his personal prestige and popularity, Havel helped produce a surge in the opinion polls for Civic Forum, the broad opposition movement of former dissidents which he founded and which toppled the Communist regime in last fall's revolution.
The Forum had experienced a sharp decrease in support after the revolution, down to 23 percent at the beginning of April. But by May, it was clearly rebounding.
Last weekend, in the last poll before the elections, the Forum received support from well over 40 percent of the electorate. Public Against Violence, the Forum's sister organization in Slovakia, had surpassed the strong coalition of Christian Democratic parties in that heavily Roman Catholic part of Czechoslovakia.
In the poll, the Christian Democratic movement was supported by around 20 percent, while the Communists got 10 percent, and the Greens and the Agrarians about 6 percent each. All the rest of the parties, including the historically strong Social Democrats and Socialists, risk reaching not even the 5 percent of support they need to be represented in the federal parliament.
The 300 members of parliament will serve for two years; their main task is to write a new constitution before elections are held in 1992.
Within six weeks of the vote, the new parliament will also elect a president; Havel is the only candidate.
Havel's involvement in the last stages of the election campaign ran counter to his earlier statements of staying above the fray. His campaigning and open support of Civic Forum brought strong criticism from Jan Carnogoursky and his Christian Democrats, the main political opponents of the Forum.
Mr. Carnogoursky, a Slovak and former dissident who is now deputy prime minister, has argued that Havel should stay neutral in the elections.
Havel stayed on the stump, however, and his campaigning has clearly made a difference for Civic Forum.
"Havel is still so popular that he can swing the election himself," says a veteran Czechoslovak journalist.
The president has been seen everywhere, presenting his anticommunist message, urging people to vote for those who fought openly against the totalitarian regime. The other night, dressed in short sleeves, he attended a concert by American singer Joan Baez, standing and enthusiastically applauding her classic peace and freedom songs, but particularly her new song about Tiananmen Square and the words "China shall be free. …