Czechoslovakia's Choice

THE Czechoslovak people clearly did what President Vaclav Havel urged: Vote, for ``democracy and freedom, for hope and truth.'' A 96 percent turnout was in itself a ringing endorsement of Czechoslovakia's new political direction. During the campaign, Mr. Havel dropped his avowed neutrality and openly backed candidates from Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, People Against Violence. These groups won 169 of 300 seats in parliament, enough to give them, and Havel, a strong mandate. But coalition building is needed for the task of writing a new constitution. Civic Forum's likely junior partners will be the Christian Democrats, who fared worse than expected.

Essentially a loose movement united by opposition to communism, Civic Forum must now shoulder the weight of government. Unpopular decisions about economic reform can't be sidestepped by Havel and the next prime minister - who will be a Slovak, to maintain the government's ethnic balance. Voters will be watching to see if things really will get better under Civic Forum, as promised. The next election, only two years off, will register their judgments.

Also watching, and voicing criticisms, will be the Communists, who did better than expected in Sunday's polling - just under 14 percent. They'll be a significant opposition in parliament.

Communists in Bulgaria did even better. Renamed the Socialists, they won a substantial victory, capturing about 48 percent of the vote. There'll be coalition negotiations, but the Socialists' preference for gradual economic change will probably prevail.

By backing the communists, Bulgarians broke the Eastern European pattern. But the pattern in their country was already different. Bulgaria's change in leadership last fall was engineered from within the party, which itself has been a factor in the country's politics for a century - and thus not the imposed presence it has been in other parts of the region.

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