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VOA Interview: Former Czech PM Speaks On Coming Elections

Vaclav Klaus, the Czech politician and former prime minister who launched his country's market based economic reforms in 1991, is in Washington for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Mr. Klaus hopes that parliamentary elections in mid-June will return him to the prime minister's post he was forced to vacate in 1997. A decade ago Mr. Klaus was lauded as an articulate and determined reformer. Later, amid an economic downturn, voters dismissed Mr. Klaus as arrogant and rigid. He was criticized for failing to combat corruption within the country's new business elite. He constantly feuded with Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic's respected president.

With the election only five weeks away, opinion surveys put Mr. Klaus's Civic Democratic Party in first place. Does Mr. Klaus expect to be prime minister again? "It depends on winning the election. And the fight with the social democrats will be very, very tough," he said.

Mr. Klaus directs his political attacks against the social democrats, even though an informal alliance he engineered has kept the them in power for the past four years. Mr. Klaus is campaigning on familiar themes of economic liberalization and deregulation and a promise to reduce bureaucracy.

"They used the last four years to implement many unnecessary European Union laws and they enhanced the role of bureaucracy again. So there was a revival of bureaucracy," he said.

One of the few economists in post-communist Europe to have become a successful politician, Mr. Klaus dismisses suggestions that his reforms could have been more effectively implemented. "No, I don't think there is a way to have done it differently. [Not with] living in the real world, in a real society, with real human beings as players in the game," he said.

Mr. Klaus, who professes allegiance to the conservative views of Nobel economist Milton Friedman, remains confident that reforming economies in Eastern Europe can still catch up with their rich neighbors in the west.

"The average annual growth rate of E.U. countries [over the past decade] was 1.9 percent. I can very easily imagine that a country like the Czech Republic will have an average growth rate at least one percent higher, in the range of three percent. So I think catching up is really quite possible," he said.

Despite his emphasis on economic matters, as prime minister Mr. Klaus is arguably best remembered as the architect of the peaceful separation of the Czech and Slovak republics from Czechoslovakia in 1993.