Royalists, Balbinovci and Ostrava radio station among 26 parties fighting election

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It's less than two months before Czechs go to the polls in an eagerly anticipated parliamentary election. Those of you living in the Czech Republic may have noticed the faces of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek or Civic Democratic leader Mirek Topolanek smiling down from billboards, but less noticeable are the two dozen or so smaller parties competing in the election.

There are twenty-six parties fielding candidates this year, including the usual suspects who've been a feature of Czech political life in last decade; the three parties in the present ruling coalition - the Social Democrats - www.cssd.cz, Christian Democrats www.kdu.cz/default.asp and Freedom Union www.uniesvobody.cz, and the two parties currently in opposition - the Civic Democrats www.ods.cz and the Communists www.kscm.cz

Under the Czech Republic's system of proportional representation, a party needs five percent of the national vote to enter parliament. Looking at the most recent opinion polls, all of them will cross the threshold with the exception of the right-of-centre Freedom Union, which is to all intents and purposes clinically dead. The party is unlikely even to gain the 3 percent minimum which ensures them state funding, so it's goodbye to the Freedom Union it seems.

As for the others, the only party with a realistic chance of entering parliament is the Green Party www.zeleni.cz, which is riding high in the polls, overtaking even the Communists in some recent surveys. Some analysts say predictions of a Green invasion are exaggerated, but it seems likely the party will garner enough votes to get in.

The remainder have little or no chance. There is a huge number of tiny right-wing parties standing this year (forming a tiny party with no chance of electoral success seems to be a preserve of the political right) including Czech Right www.ceskapravice.cz, the Czech Movement for National Unity www.chnj.wz.cz, the National Party www.narodni-strana.cz the Independents www.snked.cz, the Independent Democrats www.nezdem.cz, Law and Justice www.napravo.cz/cs/pravo-a-spravedlnost, Right Bloc www.cibulka.net/petr/index.php and several more.

For comic relief, there's the Czech Crown party www.korunaceska.org, they want to restore the monarchy to the Czech Republic, and they're actually quite serious. Then there's a party from Ostrava in North Moravia called Helax - Ostrava's Having Fun www.ostravasebavi.cz. Helax is an Ostrava radio station, and among other things the party promises to demolish the houses of those people who leave Ostrava to move to Prague. Helax - Ostrava's Having Fun won 24,000 votes in the last communal elections.

Last but not least, there's perhaps the highest profile of the joke political parties - Balbin's Poetic Party www.balbinka.cz/index1.html - whose headquarters are a pub in Balbinova street, just around the corner from Radio Prague. You can join the party's youth wing online. There's even an English version of the registration form on their website, it reads:

"I agree, that I want be Member. I realize my responsibility, which I receive by this wisdom step and I agree with all conditions, before all, that I'm not swain. Whan I will find that I'm swain, I will imediatelly break my membership and declare it to Pesidium of BPP."

Which suggests that improving the level of English spoken in the Czech Republic is not one of the party's priorities.