Czechs vote in regional and Senate elections amid tight coronavirus security measures

Photo: ČTK/Miroslav Chaloupka

Czechs have started voting in elections to regional assemblies and a third of seats in the Senate. The elections are taking place amid tight security measures aimed at preventing a further spread of the coronavirus epidemic which has significantly worsened in recent weeks.

“Go to the polls and use your right to shape the future of this country” that is the message politicians across the board have been sending voters in the run up to the elections. There is no doubt at all that the main issues generally highlighted in regional and Senate elections have been significantly overshadowed by two aspects of the coronavirus crisis – health safety matters and economic concerns.

On the day that polling stations opened to the public the health ministry reported the highest daily increase since the start of the epidemic in March –close to 3,500 people registered Covid-19 positive.

This has led to fears of a low turnout, and resulted in unprecedented security measures at polling stations around the country.  “I can assure you that casting your ballot will be safer than a trip to the supermarket” Interior Minister Jan Hamáček told the public on the eve of the elections.

Photo: Jana Opočenská,  Czech Radio

The security measures implemented have led to the elections being held in a phased-out regime. On Wednesday and Thursday people who are Covid-19 positive and those in quarantine cast their votes in special drive- in points operated with the assistance of the army.  Those who cannot leave their homes or people in hospitals and old-age homes could avail themselves of the services of mobile electoral commissions. However the main voting –spread out over two days – is taking place on Friday (from 2pm until 10 pm) and on Saturday (from 8am until 2pm) likewise amid tight security, as Klára Dlubalová from the Interior Ministry explains:

“Voters must enter the polling station with a face-mask. Only a few people will be allowed in at a time and they will be expected to use a sanitation gel placed at the entrance. Voters will stand at a safe distance from the commission and will be asked to remove their mask for a few seconds for identification purposes.”

Members of the commission who handle IDs will change their protective gloves after every voter and the voting booths will be constantly disinfected by personnel.

Face-masks and sanitation gel will be there in stock for voters, should they request it.

According to preliminary estimates the extra safety precautions will cost approximately 1 million crowns.

85 parties and movements are running in elections to 13 regions and 235 candidates are running for seats to a third of the Senate.

The Senate elections operate on a two-round system. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote this weekend, the two front-runners will enter a run-off in a week’s time.

Polling stations close at 2pm on Saturday and preliminary results should be available late that afternoon, depending on voter turnout.