First direct presidential election hits math snag

Tomio Okamura, Jana Bobošíková, Vladimír Dlouhý, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic's first direct presidential election has hit its first snag. On Friday, the Czech Interior Ministry disqualified three out of eleven candidates from the race on the grounds that they failed to collect the required 50,000 valid signatures in support of their bids. But some experts have voiced doubts about the method the ministry used in calculating the number of invalid signatures which they say could lead to lengthy legal battles, and might even delay the actual vote.

Jana Bobošíková, photo: CTK
The first Czech direct presidential election could be delayed due to a mathematical error which comes down to vague legislation. Eleven people have registered to run for the post of Czech president, three of whom were nominated by lawmakers. The other eight were required to collect 50,000 signatures to stand, and submit them to the Interior Ministry for verification by November 6.

Ministry officials only had some 16 days to check the signatures which means they did not verify each signature but took a sample of 8,500 signatures in support of each candidate. After eliminating obvious fakes, incomplete entries and other errors, the ministry compared the rest with records in the civil registry. If the resulting error rate was found to exceed three percent, they took another sample of the same size, and repeated the process.

But here comes the problem: to get an overall number of invalid signatures, the officials added up the two error rates found in each of the two samples, and applied it to the total number of signatures. However, most statistics experts believe they should have instead calculated an average error rate which should then have been applied to all the signatures.

Vladimír Dlouhý, photo: CTK
Should they had done that, one of the disqualified candidates – Jana Bobošíková – would still be in the race. Ms Bobošíková on Monday asked the Interior Ministry to correct the calculations, and said she was ready to contest the decision in court if her request is denied.

Another of the candidates barred from running, Vladimír Dlouhý, said he was planning to take the matter to court even though his chances of getting back in the race are practically zero.

“I would have been disqualified in either case. I have no intention of bringing into question the work of the people at the Interior Ministry; however, their decision does entitle me to file an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.”

The third disqualified candidate, Tomio Okamura, is expected to announce his decision later on Monday.

For their part, Interior Ministry officials say they interpreted the election legislation the way they did, and will not revise their decision unless ordered by the court. Václav Henych is in charge of the process at the ministry.

Tomio Okamura, photo: CTK
“We think it will be up to the court to decide. If the court says: ‘This method was wrong, you should have used another one”, we are ready to prepare everything so that the candidates who were originally disqualified can run in the election. All we have to do is follow the law.”

The ambiguous election legislation, which allows for different interpretations, will most likely lead to legal scrambles. The Supreme Administrative Court has 15 days to deal with any complaints against the ministry’s decision. But if any of the disqualified candidates decides to take the issue to the Constitutional Court, the entire process might get delayed, and the first ever popular vote for the post of Czech president, scheduled for January 11-12, 2013, would have to be postponed.