Czech abroad: “It’s really important we can vote – despite the cost”

Among those taking part in elections for the next president, which begin on Friday, will be many thousands of Czechs living abroad. With postal ballots not an option, registered voters need to travel to a Czech embassy or consulate and cast their ballots in person. Jan Pěnkava, who has been living in Derby, England for eight years, says he is planning to go to London – for the second round in two and a half weeks’ time.

“We left [Czechia] shortly after the Schwarzenberg-Zeman presidential election, and while we were here in the UK the second term of Zeman started – and we participated in those elections.

Photo: ČT24

“That was still at the time when we considered, Oh, we might be actually going back.

“We didn’t know how long we would be staying.

“So I was in a similar situation to people who are abroad on a short-term basis – and they are, of course, then using the embassy to cast their vote.

“In the meantime, that has changed [the family has settled in the UK].

“But I keep my citizenship – and these are elections that I’m really interested about.”

How much do you follow Czech politics and news? How interested are you in the campaigns?

“Quite a lot, I have to say – I’m a homo politicus!

“We also keep in touch; we never really lost touch with what’s happening in Czech.

Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“We are really, really following what’s happening at home closely.

“So we are keen to cast our votes – otherwise we wouldn’t really do it.

“I believe for people living around London that must be much, much easier.

“But for us it is really important that we can vote, despite all the cost it brings for us.”

So how does it actually work, voting in the UK? You told me before that it was a four-hour trip for you to the embassy in London.

“Yes. We live in Derbyshire, so you can imagine it’s about three hours to get to the outskirts of London.

Photo: TV Prima

“Usually we take the Tube, get off at the embassy and then go back.

“As I mentioned we did that earlier [2018], when we cast our vote in the second round of the Zeman-Drahoš elections

“And that’s pretty much you know [laughs]… you spend the whole day doing it, with all that travelling.”

So your plan is to vote not in the first round but the second round, for these reasons that you have outlined?

“Correct, yes.

“It is really difficult for us to cast votes in both rounds.

“So looking at what the options are and what the polls are saying, it seems that it will probably Babiš getting into the second round, along with one of the democratic candidates.

“And we want to take the opportunity to cast our votes in the second round, to support who we think is the better candidate to do this job.”

The current government were speaking – as were the previous government I believe – about bringing in postal voting for people like you, Czechs living abroad. Are you angry about that?

“Not really angry so much as sad.

“It looks a bit like we are very, very… living in history; so many countries actually allow this, and it would make it so more convenient, of course, for people to cast their votes.

Embassy of the Czech Republic in London | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“I understand why domestic politicians are trying to prevent it, at least some of them.

“But I don’t really share their fear of these votes being manipulated, or anything like that.

“So I’m not really angry about it.

“I was hoping that this would be possible for these elections about a year ago, when of course the last [general] elections took place.

“This was one of the promises that was again reiterated.

“But that didn’t happen, so we have to live with what it is.”