Few Czechs living abroad register for first chance to vote in Czech elections

Jirina Tothova has registered to vote in Slovakia, photo: CTK

The general elections which take place in the middle of next month will make history, as it is the first time that Czechs living abroad will be able to vote. For many years there were calls for Czechs living overseas to be given the right to participate in elections from abroad. However, now that legislation has finally been passed giving them this opportunity, only a tiny number have registered.

Jirina Tothova has registered to vote in Slovakia, photo: CTK
The fact that Czechs living abroad can vote for the first time has received a great deal of attention here in the Czech Republic, and a special amendment to the election law was recently passed allowing Czechs voting in the United States to cast their ballots a day earlier, to ensure the results would not be delayed due to the time difference. Last Sunday was the official deadline for registration at Czech embassies and consulates. However, the number of people who registered was far less than expected, with triple figures - and those in the low hundreds - being recorded only in Slovakia and the United States. And - embarrassingly - it has been reported that in some countries Czech diplomats and their families haven't registered to vote either.

I called Vojtech Komarek, a young Czech man who lives in Australia. Will he be voting?

"Yes, I am planning to vote in the elections."

Is it important to you, to be able to vote in the elections here?

"Actually, it is. Because, as they say, everybody should have the right to vote, and I don't think that just by living abroad we should be stripped of this opportunity."

Do you follow events in the country much?

"I would say I do. I wouldn't say much though, but I do follow major events."

How many Czechs would you imagine live in Australia?

"Take it for a wild guess, but I would say about 30,000."

Apparently the official estimate is around 9,000. Guess how many of them have registered to vote.

"I have no idea."

Sixty-four.

"Sixty-four? So you have to register?"

You have to register, yes.

Have you?

"No, I have not yet."

That means you can't vote.

"OK, well in that case I'll have to register myself first."

It's too late. The cut-off date was last Sunday.

"Oh, I didn't know that. I thought it's enough just to show up with a valid ID."

No. A lot of people are complaining about the system, actually.

"We havent' been given any indication."

Basically, you weren't informed that you had to register?

"No."

Are you disappointed to hear that?

"Yes, I am. It's sad news, actually. I had no idea that we should register. This was the first opportunity to vote abroad, and now we are being stripped of this opportunity, just not being given the right information first."

Who do you blame for that?

"I would say the media. I didn't see any ads or anything. My friends didn't tell me anything about any advertising in the papers. In the US there has been some advertising campaign running in the national papers, or regional papers as well."

If you think the number of registered voters in Australia is shockingly low, on Friday - the last day that registration was technically possible - only 75 people had registered in Canada; in Great Britain it was a pitiful 17.