Czech NGOs have evidence of massive vote-buying in local elections
The NGOs Anticorruption Endowment (Nadační fond proti korupci - NFPK), "Our Politicians" (Naši politici), "Renewal" (Oživení) and Transparency International reported today that massive vote-buying occurred during the local elections in the Czech Republic this past weekend. "The basic building block of democracy - free elections - has been impaired and vote-buying has become an advantageous business. The manipulation took place primarily in North Bohemia and North Moravia. We had representatives throughout the area and we intensively monitored these events. We are also proposing specific legislative measures that would prevent this illegal behavior," the NGOs said today.
Corruption documented in Bílina and Kadaň
In the town of Bílina, NGO analysts have long been collecting working knowledge of the preparations of a network to corrupt the vote there. Using a hidden recording device, helpers there have successfully documented the course of that corruption, from its organization and the transportation of the corrupted voters to the polls to the payment of the bribes.
Other evidence has also been obtained, including ballots completed for a specific party that the voters were paid to cast, Facebook communications offering to buy their votes, and a recording of new voters being registered in an unusual way. "We have direct evidence available of the criminal activity of one of the actors involved in this manipulation of the election. It is evident that he was not alone in the network, nor was he its leader. It will be up to the criminal justice system to find the person behind this corruption. Naturally we will provide them with absolute cooperation and everything we know," said Michal Voda, an analyst with the "Our Politicians" association.
In Kadaň, vote-buying was confirmed from several sources (acquaintances and relatives of the bribed citizens, brokers of the vote-buying, and witnesses to payment of the remuneration). Voters were transported to the polls from the Prunéřov part of the municipality by taxi drivers equipped with an "attendance sheet" and cashed in with them.
The scenario was confirmed by the driver of one of the taxis and by local residents. The manipulation of the vote is also illustrated by a 70 % increase in voter turnout in the constituencies involved.
"As part of our monitoring we managed to contact a person who was a broker of the vote-buying this year and he confirmed it had taken place. He said that by election day there were no votes left to buy," said Milan Eibl, an analyst with Transparency International.
Český Těšín: Czech Social Democrats, SOS Český Těšín buy votes
The vote-buying in the town of Český Těšín benefited the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the SOS Český Těšín party. It is proven by a great deal of evidence and testimonies, including communications on social networking sites offering remuneration for votes and testimonies about requests to participate in vote-buying, offers of CZK 500 per vote, etc.
"For those vote-buyers the list of voters who had previously been willing to sell their vote was especially essential. Those voters were often contacted directly by the buyers," said Janusz Konieczny, an analyst with the Anticorruption Endowment.
"We have absolutely specific testimonials about the organization of the vote-buying for ČSSD in a bar at the Svibice housing estate. According to the testimony, one witness said CZK 500 per vote was offered to between 100 and 150 people. A total of CZK 100 000 was said to have been disbursed in bribes. A witness claims she was personally present when the money was handed out. That's why we have turned this case over to the police," commented Lukáš Landa of the Oživení NGO.
In addition to the vote-buying Český Těšín, Oživení also mapped the situation in the towns of Horní Jiřetín, Opava and Ústí nad Labem. The area of Horní Jiřetín was monitored on suspicion of its voting-age population having been intentionally increased in order to manipulate the vote.
According to Oživení's findings, several dozen people applied for permanent residency in the municipality just before the previous municipal elections, many of whom moved away immediately afterward. "We have logged the information that people were paid as much as CZK 10 000 to apply for permanent residency for those purposes," Landa says.
"We have also determined that the same people who applied for permanent residency in the municipality last time have re-applied this year. However, we are unable to estimate their numbers," he said.
In the Mojžíř quarter of Ústí nad Labem the chair of the electoral commission has testified to the abuse of the process by those who paid socially vulnerable citizens to increase the number of votes cast for candidate list no. 13. That was the number assigned to the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) candidates for the Ústí City Hall.
Other testimonies imply that votes were bought there for CZK 200 each. The electoral commission immediately reported the incident to the Police of the Czech Republic, which closed the cause during last weekend's elections, saying no illegal activity had taken place.
"Such a rapid police procedure is surprising to say the least, especially when the key witness in the case was performing her duties on election day with the electoral commission and would probably not have had the time to provide a statement to them during the weekend," said Petra Bielinová, a lawyer with Oživení. Meanwhile, in Opava, it seems that drumming up votes for sale became a lucrative business for third-party brokers.
A case there was mapped of two people being paid to bribe voters. "We sent out a helper to verify that information and a meeting did really take place during which a politician was said to be offering CZK 450 to a broker for every vote purchased in his favor. The expenditure was to be formally reported as an advertising cost. We don't know whether this was an actual offer to influence the elections or a fraudulent one, but either way it's a crime, so we handed the matter over to police," Landa said.
Brno: Votes exchanged for entrance to a party
Vote-buying also took place in Brno through a method that was almost unbelievable. Various testimonies there prove that voters cast ballots as instructed in exchage for special bracelets that served as entrance tickets to a party at the Musilka club, where both the food and the program were free of charge.
The voters were accompanied by "voting coordinators" to the polls, who explained to them how they were to cast their ballots. "These 'bought' voters mainly didn't have any idea who they wanted to vote for in the first place and made no secret of the fact that they only voted so they could attend the post-voting event at the Musilka," said Janusz Konieczny.
Citizens have testified that electoral machinations also occurred in Prague 10, specifically at the Center for Nursing and Social Aid on Sámová Street. Pre-completed ballots were made available there.
The ballots were checked off in favor of the "Independents for Prague 10 - Movement for a Better 10" (Nezávislí pro Prahu 10 – hnutí pro lepší desítku) and also cast preferential votes for ODS candidate Ing. Richard Černý. "Thanks to the instructions that Oživení posted to the bezkorupce.cz website, citizens without any direct ties to NGOs were easily able to get involved in monitoring the elections through telephone support," said Petra Bielinová.
It is very difficult to prove the crime of vote-buying, which is why all four NGOs are pressing for amendments to the Criminal Code. Their specific proposals can be found here.
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