TOP 09, Pirates, far-right dominate in mock ‘secondary school elections’

Photo: CTK

It’s just three weeks now until ballot boxes open across the country, with Czechs going to the polls in early elections to the lower house of parliament. For the past four years the Czech NGO People in Need has been holding mock elections in the country’s secondary schools; this year more than 50,000 pupils voted in a two-day election held in over 400 schools.

Photo: CTK
A glance at the results of the secondary school elections and it’s immediately apparent that the exercise should not be taken as an alternative opinion poll, as a means of predicting the result in three weeks’ time.

For a start the non-parliamentary Pirates Party – which lobbies for, among other things, legal downloading – came in at second place, on seventeen percent. The Social Democrats – who’ve topped every national poll in the country for the last year or so – came fourth. But the project’s co-ordinator, People in Need’s Karel Strachota, says that doesn’t mean the results should be dismissed out of hand. Far from it.

Karel Strachota,  photo: Kristýna Maková
“It’s important to remember that the school elections are open to pupils over the age of 15. And many of them have already reached voting age, many will be able to vote in the ‘real’ elections in three weeks’ time. And many of their friends will also be turning 18 in the near future. So they’re not little kids anymore. They’ll be voting soon for real, and so you can’t just dismiss the results as irrelevant. They reflect these kids’ thoughts, their opinions.”

If that’s true then the right-of-centre TOP09, led by the aristocratic Karel Schwarzenberg, is far away their favoured party, emerging in first place, just ahead of the Pirates. There was a surprise result in fifth place; the ultra-nationalist, some say neo-Nazi Workers’ Party of Social Justice, who won 7 percent of the vote. So are seven percent of young Czechs neo-Nazi sympathisers? Hopefully not, says Karel Strachota.

Photo: CTK
“I really wouldn’t say so many young people sympathise with neo-Nazis. I firmly believe that a number of young people who voted for the Workers’ Party in the election simply don’t know their political manifesto. I think it’s more a reflection of what they see in the media, and that the ‘simple solutions’ offered by the party can work. This is especially true of regions which are perceived – again thanks to the portrayal in the media - as being more ‘problematic’. And the Workers’ Party have long been targeting these regions, and particularly their young potential voters.”

The secondary school elections work like real elections, with classrooms being turned into polling booths and votes cast in urns. Participation is voluntary, and People in Need hope to promote greater interest of young people in public affairs, and increase voter turnout.