Czechs are voting in the second round of Senate elections this weekend, the results of which are expected to mark a turning point in the country's drawn out political crisis. Although elections to the Senate generally incite little interest -this year they have taken on added significance - they are being viewed as a referendum on the political stalemate brought about by the inconclusive general elections in June, which has prevented politicians from reaching agreement on a stable government.
Never have elections to the Senate been so important. Although voting is only taking place to a third of all seats - in 27 constituencies - the outcome of these elections could tip the constitutional balance of power and thus indirectly influence not just the set up of the country's next government, but the outcome of the presidential election in 2008 and possible changes to the Constitution. The unexpectedly high - 47 percent - turnout in the first round of voting suggests that Czechs are aware of the special significance of these elections.
President Klaus who has been holding talks with political leaders in order to find a way out of the deadlock has intentionally postponed making a decision on who is to be the next prime minister designate until after the local and Senate elections. He said after the first round of Senate elections - in which the centre-right Civic Democratic Party took the lead - that their outcome was a clear indication of the will of the people. "Only a deaf and blind person would not see this signal" Mr. Klaus told reporters.
It is the two main rivals for power who are pitching their strength in these elections - the Civic and Social Democrats. Each of them is pushing for a different solution to the country's political crisis. The Civic Democrats favor a caretaker government which would lead the country to early elections in 2007, the Social Democrats are pushing for a grand coalition in the hope of avoiding early elections at a time when their standing in polls has dropped.
Of the 27 seats contested - the Civic Democrats are contesting 26, the Social Democrats eleven, the Christian Democrats six, the Communists three and smaller parties and independents eight. If the Civic Democrats were to win 22 of the contested seats they would have a Constitutional majority in the upper chamber. For fear of this happening, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has called on all parties to form an alliance against the Civic Democrats in the second round of elections. Although logically, the smaller parties have reason to fear a possible change of the election law which could marginalize their role in politics, no party has openly supported Mr. Paroubek's appeal. They have asked their supporters to hold their own council when they cast their vote in a constituency where they are no longer represented. On the eve of the crucial vote there was just one thing that all party leaders agreed on - they all urged voters to go the polls.