Deadline soon for Czechs abroad to register for elections

This year's general elections are just over six weeks away. Preparations are underway around the country but also abroad, at the Czech Republic's embassies and consulates. This year's elections are only the second time Czechs living abroad will have had the opportunity to cast their votes. But time is running out - the deadline for registration is the end of this week.

The first election in which Czech citizens abroad were able to vote was four years ago. Tens of thousands of votes had been expected, but in the end turnout was disappointing - only around 4,000 ballots were cast at Czech embassies. Since then, the Czech Republic has joined the European Union and many more Czechs are now living and working abroad. One city with a relatively high concentration of Czechs is Brussels. Alexandra Krusova is the first secretary at the Czech Republic's Embassy to Belgium.

"Czech citizens can cast their votes at our embassy if they put their name on the electoral register. The other option is to have a special voter ID issued in the Czech Republic. The registration must be completed 40 days ahead of the election, which means on April 23rd this year. They need an ID card or a passport and - in the case of Belgium - some Belgian document proving they have long-term residence here."

Some people, though, find this whole procedure inconvenient - a likely cause for the low turnout four years ago. Katerina Vondrova is a Czech living in Sydney, Australia. Although a conscientious voter back home, she says she is definitely going to give this year's vote a miss.

"Well, for me it is quite a difficult process to be put on the foreign electoral roll. And I think most people living abroad, especially in Australia, feel the same way. None of my Czech friends here in Sydney are likely to vote. You can only register once the actual date of the election has been announced and the actual process is quite elaborate. You need lots of signatures and lots of paperwork and that just deters me from even trying."

And it's not only the paperwork that many Czech expats find discouraging. Would-be voters also have to make a personal visit to the embassy. Katerina Vondrova again.

Czech Embassy in Brussels
"For people, especially in Australia, the distances are quite significant. The only places where people can vote are in Sydney or in Canberra. If you are living in Perth, that's close to impossible. A postal vote is not an option at the moment. People living in Perth would much rather vote by a postal vote rather that travel to Canberra, which just for illustration is the same distance as if you travel from London to Istanbul."

This year Czechs abroad will be choosing from candidate lists for the South Bohemian region. Alexandra Krusova from the Czech Embassy in Brussels.

"The elections will be held in the embassy building at the same time as in the Czech Republic, on the 2nd and 3rd of June. We'll do the counting and send the results to the Czech Republic both by post and via the internet."

The estimated number of Czechs living in Brussels is some 5,000. Judging by the number of people who have already registered at the embassy, Alexandra Krusova expects the turnout to be in the hundreds.