Political parties woo voters

With 100 days to go to the Parliamentary elections, and the chances of the two strongest parties on the Czech political scene pretty much evened out, politicians are doing their best to woo the voters anywhere and however they can - at various meetings and rallies, public appearances, TV debates, and even in schools. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

The election campaign is now in full swing and there is no doubt at all as to the main topics - accession to the EU, the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant and the Benes decrees, which have recently gained notoriety across Europe. There appears to be general consensus regarding all of the above. Each of the 5 parties that stand a chance of gaining seats in Parliament, including the Communists, support the Czech Republic's accession to the EU.

They have all taken a firm stand regarding the Temelin controversy - ie. refusing to close down the plant but accentuating the need to guarantee maximum safety, and they are all against rescinding the controversial Benes decrees, which sanctioned the postwar expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats claim they would go further than their political partners in making sure that the Czechs do not end up as second-class citizens in the EU and would be in favour of asking the EU to guarantee that the Benes decrees could remain part of the Czech legal order - but, it is not quite clear how they would go about ensuring those promises.

Another point that has been clearly stated is that the communists are almost certain to remain on the margins of top-level politics. The other four parties have ruled out entering into a coalition with them. So far, the policy programs are fairly similar and in an effort to stand out and drum up more support among individual groups of the population, the rival parties are competing to win public favour on matters such as the length of compulsory military service, the level of taxation, positive discrimination for minorities, administrative rent regulation, how they view restitution of Church property, whether they would initiate stricter measures against smoking in public places, what their stand is on legalizing soft drugs, euthanasia and whether or not they would ban dangerous breeds of dogs.

These and other issues have revealed a difference in opinion - not just between the three parties competing on their own but also between the two coalition partners - the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. For the many undecided voters who claim they will vote "for the lesser of two evils", any of these issues might just tip the scales one way or another. In the meantime, commentators are advising voters to take a close look at how much of their past promises individual parties fulfilled before committing themselves to a well-presented policy program.