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Corruption suspected again in repeated municipal elections in Krupka, Czech Republic

Krupka, 8.5.2011 3:43, (ROMEA)

Vote-buying is suspected of having taken place yet again in the repeated municipal elections in Krupka. Speaking while being recorded by the Czech Press Agency, Czech Radio, and Czech Television, two male residents of a housing estate there said they had each been paid CZK 100 and given a pre-completed ballot to submit at the polls. Their procurers were said to have been paid even more than that.

The residents said between 200 and 300 people participated in the mass payout. The previous municipal elections in the small town of 14 000 on the outskirts of Teplice were already annulled once by the courts because of vote manipulation.

"We came there and they gave us cash, an envelope and a completed ballot. There were 200, 300 of us," one of the two men described the bribe. The men claimed they had completed the transaction just 15 minutes before telling everything to the journalists. One of them was said to be angry because the organizer had promised him CZK 300, but only paid CZK 100 in the end. "He kept the rest for himself," the man said.

The second man, who had come out of the same building as the first man, confirmed his testimony. "What am I supposed to do? There's no work, but now I have money - I can make CZK 100 last two or three days," the second man said. The Czech Press Agency has their identities on record.

Residents of other parts of town sometimes said that this time the organizers visited all of the socially vulnerable voters well ahead of time and even invited them to their homes. "There are testimonies from a wide variety of people that people were paid both before and after voting. This year it [the vote-buying] was a bit better thought out, but it is still occurring," the Czech Press Agency quotes Vladan Brož, a representative of Transparency International who monitors the situation in the field, as saying.

As of this afternoon it seemed the elections might still take place undisturbed. During the morning, 15 -20 % of voters turned out in most of the districts, primarily older people. In two districts near the troubled Maršov housing estate, large numbers of socially deprived voters turned out, this time in pairs or as whole families. Last October socially deprived voters were transported to the polls en masse and did not much bother to hide the fact that their votes had been purchased.

Small groups of local people were gathered in front of the housing estate buildings, but once they saw the press, most of them stopped talking or changed their topic of conversation. The men who activists said last year were the vote-buying organizers were also standing on the street. When one of them overheard the testimonies the journalists were recording, he immediate left with his colleagues for a bar, where he followed the television news.

Order in the town is maintained by about 40 municipal and state police officers and ministerial bureaucrats supervised the polling places. The first problem was reported to them by local activists on the basis of the journalists' footage.

The rerun elections were preceded by speculation as to whether they would be clean this time. Dozens of envelopes containing ballots were strewn in front of the building entrances at the housing estate. "The procurers collect the ballots and visit the socially deprived with them," said Pavel Horák, and activist involved in bringing the previous vote-buying to the attention of the Constitutional Court, which ordered the repeat of the elections. The Regional Authority, however, found that the distribution of the ballots had been performed correctly.

The opposition has primarily blamed Vice-Mayer Zdeněk Matouš (ČSNS 2005) for manipulating the vote, claiming that he even sat in a car and watched the vote-buying as it transpired. Matouš has repeatedly denied any connection to vote-buying. His political group won the original elections with 23.2 % of the vote. Mayor Milan Puchar's Civic Democrats (ODS) came in second with 14 %. The communists were in third place, while the "Zdravá Krupka" (Healthy Krupka) group, which fought the most intensively for the elections to be repeated, came in fourth.

The opposition has blamed both Matouš and Puchar for doing their best to stay in power at any cost in order to cover up an alleged fraud they committed in connection with the construction of the Nové Modlany industrial zone. "Someone is doing their best to make sure no one else gets to look into the archive," said former Mayor Pavel Maleček (Zdravá Krupka). Puchar denies the allegations.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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