Municipal and Senate elections underway

Czechs go to the polls this Friday and Saturday. They're casting their ballots in municipal elections and to elect one-third of the upper house of Parliament, the Senate. The elections will not affect the make-up of the legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, and yet all five parliamentary parties are eagerly awaiting the results. As Dita Asiedu reports, the weekend's developments could influence the ongoing government negotiations and the next presidential election:

This weekend, Czechs vote on which of the 200,000 candidates will fill more than 62,000 posts up for grabs in the country's district and town councils. One third of the Senate - 27 of the 81 Senators in the upper house - are also to be replaced. So why will party leaders and MPs be watching the elections so closely? Over four months have passed since the general elections and the country is still without a government. Political commentator Vladimira Dvorakova says this weekend Czechs have the opportunity to send party leaders their message on where their parties really stand on the popularity ladder:

"We still don't have a cabinet that won a vote of confidence. The cabinet that we have has resigned and is no longer legitimate and a second round of negotiations on the formation of a government is starting. So, for the political parties it is very important to know what their position is. If their position has worsened, then probably their party will not be happy with the idea of early elections. If their popularity is growing, then they would not be against them because it would suggest that they would have better results and could form a cabinet on their own or together with one other in a small coalition."

Jiri Paroubek and Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Besides party leaders, President Vaclav Klaus also has a special interest in this weekend's developments. He is to decide who will be entrusted with the second attempt at forming a new government after the results come in. The political make-up of the third of the Senate will also affect Mr Klaus personally. Members of both chambers of parliament will elect a new president in 2008, so the 27 new Senators will play an important role in behind-the-scenes negotiations. Vladimira Dvorakova:

"This is also a message for the president who, after the Senate elections, can count how many votes he can be sure to get and how many are not so sure, and how many votes there will be against him. But this is not the only role. Since it depends on who the president will appoint to start the negotiations, the president can also decide whether he should support the idea of early elections or go for a more stable option."

Polls close at 2pm on Saturday. But next weekend will see a second round of Senate elections. Those of the 204 candidates who get more than 50 percent of votes this weekend have automatically won election. In districts where there is no decisive winner, the two candidates who won most votes will continue into the second round.