Voters decide future Czech government as elections begin

A two-day election to the Czech Chamber of Deputies has just got underway. A total of 22 parties and coalitions are vying for votes in an election that will decide whether Prime Minister Andrej Babiš stays in power.

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

Polling stations opened at 2pm on Friday and will remain open until 10 pm, before welcoming voters again from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. Voters are able to choose from a total of 5,242 candidates running for nearly two dozen political groupings. Just 200 of the listed candidates will ultimately make it into the Chamber of Deputies, the lower-house of the Czech Parliament. The threshold for any party or coalition to make it into the lower house is 5 percent of the total vote in the country’s proportional representation system.

Only Czech citizens over the age of 18 are allowed to vote. Those who reside in the Czech Republic should have received their voting slips in the post. A total of eight million envelopes, carrying the individual voting lists of each political grouping that has put up candidates, were sent out to citizens’ post boxes in the preceding weeks. The envelope also contains the address of the voter’s local polling station, where they will be required to identify themselves either with a passport or an ID card. Those who, for one reason or another, did not receive their voting slips are able to ask for them at a polling station.

Photo: Jana Opočenská,  Czech Radio

Voters forced to self-isolate due to being infected with COVID-19 were able to vote through a system of “drive-in” voting earlier this week. Finally, voters whose health condition does not allow them to visit the polling station have also been able to vote from home via so-called “portable ballot boxes”. This option is being used this year most notably by President Miloš Zeman, who was due to vote from his Lány residency.

Czech citizens living abroad are also able to cast their ballots. However, in order to do so they have to visit a Czech embassy or consulate in their country of residence and identify themselves with a voter identification card, if they are not already registered in the respective foreign mission’s list of voters.

Ballots | Photo: Pavla Firbacherová,  Czech Radio

All voters will also be able to use the option of a so-called “preference vote” for an individual candidate of the party. This is done by circling the candidates listed on the relevant party’s paper. A total of four preferential votes can be made.

Initial results should start coming out on Saturday afternoon. Once the full results are officially announced, the president names a prime minister to form a government. Usually, this request is made to the leader of the party that received the most votes. However, if he or she is unlikely to be able to form a government, it is within the president’s power to ask any of the other party leaders in the Chamber of Deputies to do so.