High schools come under pressure from regional politicians to drop mock elections

Foto: ČTK

Over the next three days, more than 140 high schools in the Czech Republic are taking part in a mock election, aimed at boosting interest among students on the cusp of voting age, in the political process although they haven’t earned the right to vote yet. Students between 15 to 19 are taking part, but paradoxically, some of the country’s politicians, primarily Social Democrats ahead of the real national election in May, have stepped up the pressure for schools to drop out. The reason? What they charge is a danger of politicisation of the classroom. But critics say, they are only really worried about the mock election results.

If there is one task which observers say is difficult, it is getting more young people – tomorrow’s voters - interested in the political process. That was one of the main aims of Volby nanečisto, a mock national election now underway, allowing students at high schools to both discuss issues of the day – from the state of public finances to pension reform – and to cast their vote for one of the country’s real parties. But the second part, multiple sources reported on Monday, was a problem for some, mainly Social Democrat politicians including the governor of Central Bohemia David Rath. He spoke to Czech TV:

David Rath
“There was a danger that some political parties could use the mock election results against their political opponents.”

Such a scenario, others have charged, was unlikely but in any case under increased pressure from politicians some 60 regional schools have already cancelled and will not take part. Even the Education Ministry has dropped support for the project, after the education minister met with regional governor Michal Hašek. A little earlier I spoke to Tereza Kučerová of People in Need, the non-profit organisation behind the project, who says the development is most unfortunate.

“Originally there were about 200 schools and after this misunderstanding of what we wanted to do, some schools pulled out. The number at the moment is a little over 140. We are really sorry about this because we feel that the schools that pulled out are not happy about the situation but were afraid that the mock poll no longer seemed as good as in the beginning.”

Students themselves at participating schools have said they are looking forward to the vote and one on Czech TV on Monday mocked the real Social Democrats’ aversion, saying that the party was probably afraid given young people’s “more liberal attitudes”. The party has often had what is seen as a rocky relationship with younger voters, following from an incident several years ago when its leader Jiří Paroubek, then prime minister, ordered riot police to clamp down on visitors at an illegal music festival. And while members of the party have argued that Volby nanečisto could have introduced propaganda, Tereza Kučerová of People in Need says this has not been the case.

Photo: CTK
“Our aim was only for students to try and take part in the polls – not to have any sort of propaganda. They only have a list there of the political parties in the running. All they will be doing is circling the one they want to vote for and then put it into the box. No kind of propaganda has been presented.”

People in Need has made one concession in the mock vote – a fairly simple solution: to make the results public only after the real elections are held in May; that way students eager to vote will be able to do so, and no one will have a chance to distort the mock results in the political arena.