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General Elections in the Czech Republic, a round-up one week before the vote

General Elections in the Czech Republic, a round-up one week before the vote

25/05/2010 - D-7

8 million Czechs are being called to ballot on 28th and 29th May to renew the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber in Parliament. 6,000 Czechs living abroad have registered on the electoral rolls (in some countries they are allowed to vote if they have an electoral card delivered by their town of residence). During the last elections on 2nd and 3rd June 2006, 6,702 Czechs living abroad fulfilled their civic duty. Most expatriates live in the USA, UK, Russia, Belgium, Australia and even in neighbouring Slovakia. This year as in 2006 they are being invited to choose their MPs from lists in South Bohemia. Czechs living abroad have been allowed to vote in the election since 14th and 15th June 2002.

The Social Democratic Party (CSSD) led by Jiri Paroubek announced that it wanted to save 129 billion crowns on the national budget. To implement this reform the CSSD experts have based themselves on international examples. The CSSD first wants to create a Central Purchases Coordination Bureau that would lead to savings of nearly 15% of the total sum ie 19 billion crowns. But apart from this savings plan the CSSD is also planning to increase social spending such as for example an increase in maternity allowance (the amount of which was reduced on 1st January 2010) and the development of nurseries in towns.
The latter measure also features on the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) programme led by Petr Necas who replaced former Prime Minister (2006-2009) Mirek Topolanek mid-April as head of the ODS. The party wants to legalise the situation of the parent who stays at home to look after the children by reducing taxes by 5,000 crowns per dependent child. It is also planning to make parental leave more flexible and support part time work for parents as well as for older people. The ODS is promising to adopt the euro by January 2015 whilst the CSSD hopes to adopt the single currency in 2016.

Help for the elderly and the reform of retirement pensions (the Czech Republic is one of the rare EU countries not to have undertaken this reform), feature at the heart of all of the political parties' programmes. The Constitutional Court declared that the present calculation of retirement pensions did not favour those with the highest salaries. According to Finance Minister, Eduard Janota the new system demanded by the Court will increase State spending by 10 billion crowns. The Czech state devotes 340 billion crowns to retirement pensions every year.
The ODS supports the funding of retirement pensions using private sources; the CSSD and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) hope that these will be guaranteed by the state; TOP 09 and the People's Christian Demcoratic Union (KDU-CSL) say that they are also in favour of increasing the minimum retirement pension for those living alone. The Communists want to increase the pension to 10,000 crowns for everyone (at present it is 6,600 crowns).
Political experts at the Masaryk University in Brno have studied the programmes of all of the parties and have decided that most of them lie in the centre of the political scale, (CSSD, the Green Party (CZ), Public Affairs (VV) and KDU-CSL) and that they offered almost identical solutions to the country's problems whilst the ODS and TOP 09, a party founded in June 2009 were firmly established on the right and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, on the left.

President of the Republic Vaclav Klaus said that he would never accept the appointment of a government that relied on the support of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. "If you ask me whether I have changed, I shall tell you clearly 'no'," he indicated. In 2004 the Head of State asked Stanislav Gross (CSSD), successor to Vladimir Spilda (CSSD) as Prime Minister to produce the signatures of 101 non-Communist MPs who were ready to support his work, it was only on this condition that the Czech President accepted the appointment of the government put forward by Stanislav Gross. According to the Constitution the Head of State can reject the government or one of its ministers which are put forward to him by the person he has appointed to form the government.
"A cooperation agreement can only be discussed if we have at least 105 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. We had a bad experience with some MPs who changed party during the term in office and it is not good to govern if we have to rely on a weak majority,"declared Pavel Kovacik, KSCM leader of Parliament. The Communists are asking the CSSD for an increase in social spending and the building of housing in exchange for their support. The party's campaign leader in Prague, Jiri Dolejs declared that the Communists were ready to support the social democrats even if they refused to leave NATO – a measure which did however feature amongst the demands put forward by the KSCM. "Our electorate is expecting us to turn our proposals into reality," maintained Jiri Dolejs.
The KSCM and the CSSD govern together in 5 of the country's 14 regions. Moravia-Silesia and Karlovy-Vary are led by a coalition that rallies both parties. In Vysocina, in the region of Pilsen and in Central Bohemia, the Social Democratic Party leads minority government enjoying Communist support. The polls show however that the creation of a CSSD/KSCM coalition worries the Social Democrat electorate.

The CSSD decided to boycott the three daily newspapers – Mlada fronta Dnes, Lidove noviny and Hospodarske noviny – and two weeklies, Respekt and Reflex which it accuses of "distilling hate in league with the parties on the right" - according to Jiri Paroubek the party's leader. "Jiri Paroubek's choice not to communicate with media which is read by 1.7 million people speaks for itself," declared Jan Drazan, editor in chief of Lidove noviny.
The electoral campaign has been riddled with many incidents – violence that has been extremely clear in Czech political life for the last few months. On 5th May last in Brno Bohuslav Sobotka, former Finance Minister (2002-2004 and 2005-2006), Deputy Chair of the CSSD and chair of the parliamentary group was attacked by a drunk who hit him in the face – after this he was admitted to hospital. The day before that in Slany (Central Bohemia), the CSSD said how angry and worried it was after discovering posters which bore the following phrase: "My name is Jiri Paroubek and soon I shall be the first President to be assassinated." In Kladno (Central Bohemia) bottles and sausages were thrown at people taking part in an electoral meeting. The social democratic leader said that these attacks were "a result of the hate campaign undertaken by the Civic Democratic Party under the management of campaign director, Ivan Langer." For his part Petr Necas condemned the use of such posters but also said that this could be "provocation on the part of the Social Democratic Party itself." Likewise he said after the attack on Bohuslav Sobotka that "the aggression with all the treacherous acts and personal attacks that it implied had been brought into this campaign by social democracy."

Some electoral battles are also taking place before the courts. Radek John, leader of the Public Affairs Party, lodged a complaint against the CSSD for "constant aggression in the media, unverified speculation and fallacious declarations on the part of Jiri Paroubek." The Public Affairs leader asked for an apology for the insults from the party which he is accusing of embezzlement and theft amongst other things. The Social Democratic leader answered that the legal proceedings did not scare him and that he would continue to inform citizens.
Radek John is also facing another accusation; that of having received several million crowns in cash at the end of April – this information was revealed by the dailies, Mlada fronta Dnes and Hospodarske noviny. Czech law prohibits political parties from receiving cash – sums which are given to them must be put into bank accounts.
The Public Affairs party accepted up to 500,000 crowns from its sponsors. In all the sum is said to have totalled 5.9 million crowns. "This is our accountant's fault," said Radek John who says that he confirmed that the accountant had erroneously indicated that it was cash but that the sums had been put into a bank account. This information was denied by Vladimir Konicek, director of the Monitoring Committee of Political Parties at the Chamber of Deputies.

Finally a lighter affair but with a dramatic outcome; TOP 09 which lies to the right of the political scale, led by former KDU-CSL leader, Miroslav Kalousek has been the focus of dozens of complaints after the party sent a bill of 121,000 crowns (4,700 €) to voters, i.e. the sum owed by every Czech as part of the national debt. Some voters did not understand that this paper was just a campaign tract which endeavoured to show how great the country's debt was and believed that they really had to pay such a sum – it set off violent reaction amongst the population, ranging from nervous breakdowns to fits of hysterics.

The Conference of Archbishops withdrew its support from the KDU-CSL on 28th and 29th May – since the Catholics fear that the party's leader, Cyril Svoboda will choose to ally himself with the CSSD after the election. The bishops indicated that they preferred TOP 09.

According to the latest poll by CVVM, the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is due to come first in the general elections with 30.5% of the vote. It will be followed by the Civic-Democratic Party (ODS) with 19% of the vote – it is the first time since 2006 that the ODS has fallen below the 20% mark – TOP 09 is due to win 14%, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (13%) and Public Affairs (11.5%). The Green Party and the KDU-CSL are not due to win the 5% necessary to be represented in Parliament. The Citizens' Rights Party (SPO), founded by former Prime Minister (1998-2002), Milos Zeman is only due to win 2% of the vote.
The electoral campaign started on 12th May in the media. "This does not influence the Czechs," said political analyst Daniel Kunstat who said that the parties were suffering due to a lack of creativity: "The parties lack spirit and irony. With the exception of TOP 09 they all take things much too seriously."
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN