Czechs vote in elections that could see new parties change political map

Photo: CTK

People around the Czech Republic have begun casting their ballots in the sixth election to the Chamber of Deputies since the foundation of the state. The results should be quite clear a few hours after polls close at 2 PM on Saturday. However, it could be days or even weeks before the shape of the next Czech government emerges.

Photo: CTK
Twenty-three parties are in the running in early elections brought about by the fall of a centre-right Czech government in June. Seventeen of the groupings are fielding candidates in all of the countries regions.

Close to 15,000 polling stations opened their doors to voters at 2 PM on Friday. After a break between 10:00 at night and 8:00 in the morning, they will close at 2PM on Saturday, when counting gets underway.

Voting has also been taking place at Czech diplomatic missions around the world, with the polls due to close in Los Angeles, for instance, at 6 AM on Saturday, Central European Time.

Here in the Czech Republic, over eight million people have received their ballots. Under the country’s electoral system, voters can give four candidates preferential votes.

On the eve of the election, President Miloš Zeman had this message for the country’s electors:

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek
“Take part in the elections, whoever you vote for. But I would supplement that message with another one. Whoever doesn’t vote is voting, though he is unaware of it. If somebody doesn’t go to polls, his vote is forfeited. It is automatically split, in ratio, between the parties are represented in parliament. So it could happen that a non-voting voter gives part of his vote to a party he would never vote for in his life.”

Polls have suggested that up to three-quarters of those eligible to vote may do so. Turnout in 2010 was 62.6 percent.

Monday is a state holiday, meaning it will be a long weekend, while the forecast is for unseasonably warm weather. However, experts say those factors are unlikely to affect turnout.

While a reasonably accurate picture of how the parties have fared can be expected within a few hours of the polls closing on Saturday, it could be some time before a clearer picture of who will form the next cabinet emerges.

Photo: CTK
Pundits seem to agree that no single issue has dominated campaigning ahead of the second premature general elections in the Czech Republic’s short history. Instead, they have been most characterised by the emergence of relatively new and as yet untested parties.

These groupings are hoping to make capital out of widespread voter dissatisfaction stemming from corruption scandals and austerity measures.

How they perform could well have a marked impact on the future government – and could even be part of a greater redrawing of the country’s political map.