Cancelled Czechs (23 June 2006)
The republic’s election produced a finally balanced result between right and left, and an innovative form of corruption.
This month’s elections in the Czech Republic saw yet another finely balanced result, following similar knife-edge outcomes in the last year in Italy and Germany. A prospective centre-right coalition having 100 seats and opposition parties to the left also having 100 seats. A German style grand coalition seems off the agenda but the outgoing Social Democrats may end up giving tacit support to the new government in exchange for policy concessions. The principal loser in the election was the Communist party. In contrast to most of central and eastern Europe, the Communists are still a significant force – Czechoslovakia’s pre-1948 elections showed that it had a native communist tradition that was not imposed from Moscow, and this still seems to be true.
There were some strange undercurrents in this election, including an innovative form of what – by most standards – would count as corruption. Several retailers and a restaurant were offering discounts of as much as 20% on their goods and services for customers who brought in an unused ballot paper marked in favour of the Social Democrats or Communists. One chain of shops, Rock Point, reported that they had collected 5,000 ballot papers. The Prague Post (a right-of-centre English language paper in Prague) reported the scheme without much of a raised eyebrow, and the Czech Interior Ministry did not seem to object. It probably did not dent the left’s vote much, as the most enthusiastic take-up would surely be from apathetic individuals who valued a pair of cheap hiking boots more than their recently-won democratic rights. But at the very least it was offering monetary rewards for scorning the democratic process, and at worst attempting to buy an election. I very much assume it would be illegal in Britain (and indeed, for it would be more likely to be put into practice there, the US). If not, it should be criminalised at the next opportunity.