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Czech court decides local elections will repeat in town of Chomutov

Brno/Chomutov, 20.11.2014 22:31, (ROMEA)
"Municipal elections under the microscope" (Collage: NFPK, Romea.cz)

The municipal elections will be repeated in the Czech town of Chomutov. Even though those who complained to the Ústí Regional Court have failed with their particular request as to why the elections should be invalidated nationwide, the court has ordered that the local elections be repeated, according to court spokesperson Marcela Trejbalová.  

The complainants claimed votes were bought. Anti-corruption initiatives also documented vote-buying.  

The initiatives were prompted to investigate after hearing the story of a Romani party at the Písečná housing estate in Chomutov in front of the Roxy discotheque on the first day of the elections (10 October). According to activists, dozens of people attended the party, receiving refreshments and pre-completed ballots before ultimately being driven to polling places by local security guards.  

Between CZK 200 and CZK 400 was reportedly paid per vote. The petitioners to the court were Daniel Černý, mayoral candidate and leader of the victorious PRO Chomutov (FOR Chomutov) movement, Iveta Nátherová and the TOP 09 party; according to the court, their evidence included 79 ballots in favor of some Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) candidates submitted in 11 of the 40 electoral precincts that were completed in an absolutely identical way.

According to the court decision, the local electoral outcomes were influenced to such a degree that the vote has been declared invalid. "Excluding those ballots would have no influence on the distribution of seats among the parties, but counting them has influenced specific ČSSD candidates being seated," Trejbalová said.      

The court says the elections for the entire town are therefore invalid. "Chomutov comprises a single constituency according to the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court. That is why the elections will be repeated in all its precincts," Trejbalová said.    

"I am glad the court has decided in favor of our proposal. We had to point out this illegal behavior because otherwise we would not be able to take up government of the town with a clear conscience," Černý said.  

The PRO Chomutov candidate said there will now be a period of limbo during which the current leadership will remain in power. "I hope they don't take any steps that might lead to criminal liability," he said.

In Chomutov the PRO Chomutov movement won eight seats in the now-invalidated elections, the ANO 2011 movement won eight and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) won six; those three parties have agreed to form a governing coalition. The 35-member town council elected by the now-invalidated vote also included the still-governing ČSSD (eight seats) and the New North (Nový sever) movement (five seats).

Czech Interior Ministry spokesperson Vladimír Řepka said the new voting could be implemented in mid-March. The repetition of a particular election is governed by the same timeframe as the repetition of the entire election would be.

"After receiving the court's decision, the Interior Minister must announce the new elections within 30 days. By law the elections must take place within the next 90 days. The first presumed deadline by which repeat elections could take place in other towns is 14 March 2015," Řepka said.  

Černý claims to have no fear about the results of a new vote. "The citizens of Chomutov have long been in favor of changing the town leadership. I believe they will support the parties guaranteeing that change during the repeat elections as well," he said.  

Police are investigating possible vote-buying in eight towns and villages throughout the Ústí Region, according to Regional Police spokesperson Alena Bartošová. "In six of those cases criminal proceedings have already been initiated, but for the time being no one has been charged," she said.  

"We appeal to the criminal justice authorities to take action in the case of Chomutov, because in our view there are enough indications in the administrative file to do so, and we will naturally provide them to the police," court spokesperson Trejbalová said. Černý is also calling for the alleged culprits to be punished:  "If someone specific has committed illegal behavior, he should be held accountable."

Brno-sever municipality considers constitutional complaint over invalidity of elections

The Regional Court in Brno had previously ruled to invalidate the election in the municipal department of Brno-sever. Mayor Rostislav Hakl (ČSSD) and the rest of the town leadership are considering whether to file a constitutional complaint against that decision.

Lawyers are preparing a draft complaint and Hakl said the town council will decide whether to file it on Thursday. The court overturned the elections last week because of vote-buying.

Dozens of Romani people, according to the court verdict, elected Hakl in exchange for being granted entry free of charge to a party where beverages and food were free of charge as well. Hakl says he had nothing to do with the event.

"We want to determine whether the court's decision complies with the Constitution of the Czech Republic. We don't want to have any doubts on that score. If the Constitutional Court decides the lower court verdict is in order, we will have to respect it," Hakl said, adding that for the time being he could not provide exact information about what form the motion would take because lawyers are still drafting it.

Hakl was unable to say what the basis will be for his complaint to the Constitutional Court. In his view, the Regional Court's decision to invalidate the election was surprising.

"They could just recount the votes and change the seats accordingly, but the question is whether the court would be capable of handling a recount at all. It would be hard to prove whether the people who went to that party because they got a free wristband actually went to the polls, and if so, whether they actually voted for the ČSSD once they were behind the curtain," he said.

The Constitutional Court is not bound by any timeframes for ruling on such complaints. "A plenary session of all 15 justices decides electoral matters. The proceedings in plenary matters took around nine months on average last year, but it could take less time or more time than that," Constitutional Court spokesperson Miroslava Sedláčková said.

Filing a constitutional complaint has no suspensive effect, so the elections will be repeated even if the Constitutional Court will have not yet ruled on the lower court decision. New elections will probably be held on 14 March of next year, but the Interior Ministry has not yet officially announced any deadline.

The motion to invalidate the elections in Brno-sever was filed by councilor Petr Hladík (Christian Democrats). He objected to the fact that Romani residents had cast ballots in exchange for either money or free entry to a party.  

That event was convened by Adam Adámek, who explained that he had wanted just to teach Romani residents how to vote so they could be better off. According to the court, the Romani voters did not freely participate in the election.  

During the now-invalidated elections in Brno-sever, the "Association of Citizens of Lesná Street" won nine of the 35 council seats, while the second-place ANO 2011 movement won six seats, as did the ČSSD. The Christian Democrats won four seats, while TOP 09, the Green Party, the KSČM, the "And What About Brno?" movement and the Civic Democrats each won two seats. 

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Chomutov, vote-buying, Volby, Komunální volby 2014



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