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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (BosNewsLife)– Czechs have voted in early parliamentary elections, punishing the center-right government following massive corruption and spying scandals. The Communists are expected to play a key role in national politics, for the first time since the collapse of Communism in 1989.
Since Friday, October 25, Czechs were visiting polling stations in the two-day election that is to swing their nation leftwards amid public anger about the previous administration, opinion polls showed.
In June, Prime Minister Petr Necas, 48, resigned after his chief of staff and mistress was charged with abuse of office for using the country’s secret service to spy on Necas’s wife, whom he divorced in August.
His aid, Jana Nagyova, was also accused of trying to bribe three members of Parliament, who opposed a government austerity plan, with offers of posts in state-owned companies.
The long-time lovers married last month allegedly to avoid prosecution. Under current legislation a legally recognized couple cannot be forced to testify against each other.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS BENEFIT
Leftist Social Democrats benefit from the scandals and are expected to win. However without a clear majority in the 200-seat lower house, they are likely to cooperate with the Communists, who are placed second in opinion polls.
It is the first time that Communists are expected to play a dominant role since their ouster in the 1989 ‘Velvet Revolution’, following decades of autocratic rule.
Anti-Communists are furious. They recall that devoted Christians, their church leaders and dissidents were among those being jailed or even killed by the Communist Party for their religious or political views.
Sculptor David Cerny took his anger to the Vltava River, installing a 10-meter-high plastic purple hand with a raised middle finger.
It is a salute, he said, that points directly at Prague Castle, the seat of current Czech President Milos Zeman.
“This finger is aimed straight at the castle politics. After 23 years, I am horrified
at the prospect of the Communists returning to power and of Mr. Zeman helping them to do so,” the 45-year-old artist explained.
Other activists reminded people to the 250 people who were executed and as many as 20,000 who died of mistreatment for their faith of critical opinions.
Cutout figurines were found hanging from bridges in Prague and several other cities this week adorned with the slogan: “Went against the Communists.”
The leftist Zeman, who refuses to distance himself from the Communists, has not directly reacted to the latest uproar, urging voters instead to go to the polls. “Whoever does not vote is voting, though he is unaware of it,” he said on national radio and television.
“If somebody doesn’t go to polls, his vote is forfeited. It is automatically split, in ratio, between the parties are represented in parliament,” he added.
“So it could happen that a non-voting voter gives part of his vote to a party he would never vote for in his life,” Zeman warned.
Yet voters are divided over the Social Democrats and their allies. “I thought about my vote for a long time but it was always the Social Democrats who came up. I trust them the most,” says a woman in a polling station.
“The Social Democrats are promising a nice future but I don’t think they can fulfill their promises,” counters a man, who also came to vote here. “It is better to have hard times than to end up like Greece or Spain.”
The Social Democrats of the 42-year-old Bohuslav Sobotka, who is expected to become prime minister, claim to be pro-European.
Yet plans to raise special taxes on often foreign-owned banks and large companies to contain the budget and revive social programs are expected to raise eyebrows in Brussels.
Similar initiatives in Hungary led to tensions with the European Union.
Anti-Communists still hope the Social Democrats will reach-out to other newer parties, including the centrist ANO (Yes) movement of business tycoon Andrej Babis.
His loud anti-corruption message has struck a chord with voters and ANO is tipped to pick up as much as 16.5 percent of the vote.
Czechs are tired of the financial wrongdoing that has plagued Czech politics since the country broke away from Czechoslovakia in 1993.
One Czech entrepreneur even organizes ‘Crony-Safari’ bus tours in Prague, showing tourists villas and other properties obtained by corruption. Among the stops also an elite school where bags of cash are allegedly buying a degree and a single, barely visible address registered by nearly 600 companies.
Official results of the country’s sixth parliamentary elections since Czech independence were due later on Saturday, October 26.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals from especially, but not limited to, (ex)Communist nations and other autocratically ruled states).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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