General elections in the Czech Republic

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Polling stations open at precisely two pm across the Czech Republic on Friday for voting in the country's two day general elections. The task involves choosing 200 deputies for the Lower House -from a total of 29 registered parties, the vast majority of them unlikely to get in. The future government and parliament is expected to face some challenging tasks - among them - leading the Czech Republic into the EU - possibly in 2004 - and also choosing a successor for President Vaclav Havel when his term in office ends at the end of this year.

Photo CTK
In line with Czech legislation there's been a blackout on opinion poll results but political parties have been campaigning up until the very last minute, trying to break through a barrier of growing public cynicism and urging Czechs to use their right to vote. My colleague Daniela Lazarova asked commentator Vaclav Pinkava what he thought of the campaign.

"I think it is a bit lackluster compared to the past - an attempt to create a campaign out of practically nothing in the way of a controversial agenda. Most of the issues are consensual ones and there is really no sense of a fundamental difference between the parties .I think that it is a bit of a side show this year."

Quite a few people have said that they don't plan to vote. Why do you think that so many people simply can't be bothered this time round. Is it a result of the lackluster campaign or could it be because of the power sharing deal between the Civic and Social Democrats these past four years?

"Well, I think it is a general effect that one would expect in a ten year old fledgling democracy which starts off with a kind of unreasonable euphoria and putting too much hope into politicians . In established democracies politics are seen as less important to everyday life because business and the economy is what really dictates what is happening. Here that realization is coming in but it is coming in with a kind of disgust about politics which is based on disillusionment and I think that unreasonably so. I think politicians are very much the same the world over and if your expectations are too high to start with then your disappointment will be all the greater until you chose the moderate view that it is part of life and you go and vote and you don't expect too much dramatic change from it -but so what -that's no reason not to vote. "

Would you say that we have now reached a point at which the Czech Republic is regarded as a stable democracy and functioning market economy and people no longer feel it is crucial for them to vote?

Yes, I think there is some merit in that despite some attempts to create a feeling of threat or urgency about it, most people feel that whatever happens it will be more or less the same as before because the politicians are of different colours but they are the same type of person. One good thing is that there are so many parties this time round. That I think is a resurgence of interest in politics at the grass roots. That will obviously shake out and there will be far fewer in the end but it is all part of a cyclical process that is healthy and shows that we are on our way to becoming a normal democracy."

There are still some very important decisions to be made - among them the country's accession to the EU. Are these elections going to be decisive in terms of EU accession?

"I don't believe they are. I really don't think it is up to us here about whether accession happens and when. It is really the EU that is going to decide the pace of that. I think there is a lot of posturing going on but I don't think there is any really fundamental difference in any of the major political parties. There are some differences of emphasis but I think that everyone is aware that our future lies in the EU - if we are to have a future."