Communist Party leaders today agreed to give up their 41-year monopoly on power in Czechoslovakia by promising to propose a coalition government including other political parties and dropping its legally guaranteed "leading role" in political affairs.
The dramatic move followed a two-hour meeting between Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec and the Civic Forum, the 9-day-old opposition organization led by playwright Vaclaz Havel.
The announcement, the latest in a series of lightning reforms in Eastern Europe, also followed 11 straight days of demonstrations organized by students and the Civic Forum to demand political freedom.
Those protests climaxed Monday, when millions of Czechoslovaks walked off their jobs for a two-hour general strike to oppose one-party rule. The walkout was one of the most vivid manifestations of a peaceful revolution interrupted 21 years ago when Warsaw Pact tanks snuffed out the reform-minded Prague Spring.
As dusk fell, hundreds of citizens again gathered under the statue of St. Wenceslas in the capital's famed Wenceslas Square, shouting "Freedom! Freedom!" in celebration of the announcement by Adamec's government.
"By Dec. 3, we will propose to the president of the republic (Gustav Husak) to appoint a government with a new composition," said Marian Calfa, a minister without portfolio for legal affairs.
"It is expected that it will be a government of a broad coalition base, in which there will be both non-party representatives and representatives of other political parties, and at the same time, of course, representatives of the Communist Party," Calfa said.
"It will be a government first of all of specialists and experts," Calfa added during a five-minute news conference. He did not take questions.
Since the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February, 1948, many crucial government positions were held by professional Communist Party members with no qualifications for the posts they held.
Speculation on future leaders focused on Valtr Komarek, 59, an economist linked to Civic Forum and known for his outspoken view that the Communist leaders could not stop the country's economic decline. Posters have begun appearing saying, "Komarek for Premier."
Calfa also said the government will ask Parliament to eliminate three articles in the constitution, including one guaranteeing the Communist Party the leading role in political affairs and another requiring a Marxist-Leninist-based education.
Eliminating the education provision would end the traditional cradle-to-grave political indoctrination forced upon citizens.
The third article to be dropped outlaws groups not allied with the National Front, a pro-government umbrella organization for political activities.
In the past, non-Communist groups have been allowed to join the National Front, but such groups had to be allied with the Communist Party.
The proposals will be presented to the two-chamber National Assembly or Parliament, which is meeting in joint session.