Czech NGO says repeat elections involved vote-buying again, but on a smaller scale
Even though police claim they have not noted any cases of vote-buying during the repeat elections in the municipalities of Bílina and Chomutov (Ústí nad Labem region) this past weekend, nonprofit organizations monitoring the situation say they reported possible cases of vote-selling to police more than once. Nevertheless, Janusz Konieczny of the Anticorruption Endowment has evaluated the situation as much more positive compared to the fall municipal elections.
Konieczny said he believes media coverage of the scandal played a big role. "I see the way the elections have now taken place as a success, because this time there was not as much vote-buying. The reason for that is definitely the media taking an interest and the monitoring performed by people from nonprofit organizations and the police," he told news server Romea.cz.
Suspicious cases did occur, however, and the information collected about them has been given to police. In collaboration with the "We Don't Want to Live in Palermo" initiative, the Anticorruption Endowment said on 26 January that they have recorded evidence about the activities of persons offering to deliver votes for politicians in Chomutov in exchange for bribes.
"They were asking CZK 100 per vote," the representatives of the anti-corruption organizations reported. Police spokesperson Marie Pivková, however, said police have not yet noted any problems.
"We do not have any cases of interference with the elections reported," Pivková said. The activists, however, allege that David Ištok, a candidate with the PRO Chomutov political party, was contacted by two people before the elections asking whether he was interested in buying 25 votes.
"Those people were just facilitating the offer. The person behind this activity is selling the votes of between 500 and 600 voters," the NGOs said previously.
The civic groups claim that the person buying the votes is exploiting the poverty of citizens living in socially excluded localities of Chomutov and has turned the sale of votes into an illegal business. The Anticorruption Endowment already filed one criminal report over massive vote-buying during the autumn elections there.
That report will not be the last. "Given the scope of the trafficking in votes I am planning to file one more criminal report," Konieczný told Romea.cz.
Alena Bartošová, the Regional Police spokesperson, said on Friday 30 January that police had completed their investigation into alleged vote-buying during the fall municipal elections in Chomutov. A 45-year-old local man has been charged with interfering with the preparations for and course of an election.
Konieczny said people in Chomutov's socially excluded localities asked for remuneration in exchange for their votes. "This is not just about Romani people, but others in onerous financial situations. We noted that homeless people were asking for CZK 50 in exchange for casting a ballot," he said.
Daniel Černý, the lead candidate on the PRO Chomutov list, said he believes vote-buying is becoming a common phenomenon in Chomutov. Police, however, say that the repeat election this past weekend was calm both there and in Bílina.
Police patrols were posted to all polling places, which is said to have helped. "The goings-on in town are being monitored by dozens of uniformed police officers and plainclothes colleagues who are overseeing the legitimacy of the elections. Prior to the elections we did not receive any reports of so-called vote-buying," Teplice Police spokesperson Daniel Vítek said on election day.
Another problem of the repeat election was low turnout. According to information published on www.volby.cz, a website of the Czech Statistical Bureau, only 32.96 % of eligible voters went to the polls.
Voter participation in precincts including socially excluded localities is around 15 %. Higher participation was reported, for example, at the Za Chlumem housing estate, where dozens of people visited four polling places at the local school.
During the October elections the participation in Bílina was at a record high, with more than 43 % of people casting a ballot. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) improved its results during the repeat elections there this weekend.
The KSČM won 25.63 % of the vote, 4 % more than in October. Nine seats on the 30-seat council will belong to it now.
Second place went to the Independents in Bílina-HNHRM group with 17.99 % of the vote, while ANO came in third place at 16.82 %. The repeat elections were ordered by the court after it discovered dozens of ballots cast in the fall had been completed in an identical manner.
Vote-buying, according to the court, significantly influenced the outcome of the autumn elections. A 45-year-old local man has been charged over the vote-buying in Chomutov.
In connection with the vote-buying in Bílina, detectives have charged two men with the same felony. All face between six months and three years in prison if convicted of paying between CZK 100 and CZK 300 per ballot cast.
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