Czech Republic: Did Romani people traffic in votes in Brno?
The question of whether a racketeering operation was involved in vote-buying during last fall's municipal elections in Brno depends on how racketeering is defined. On 17 February the Czech Constitutional Court overturned a decision that had invalidated the results of that poll in the Brno-sever municipal department.
"We can, of course, take exception on moral grounds to such procedures, but we all know this is simply a normal part of any election campaign. One candidate offers voters donuts, another one offers them cups of coffee," Constitutional Court Justice Jan Musil announced when reading the judgment.
According to the court, the plaintiffs failed to prove that either corruption or unacceptable pressure had been placed on voters, and it ruled that the Regional Court, which cancelled the election results, had interfered arbitrarily and disproportionately with the election. The Czech News Agency has reported on the court's finding in detail.
I'm voting for Hakl and going to a party!
What actually happened last year in Brno? According to many testimonies, dozens of Romani people caused confusion at the polls during the elections because they were not familiar with how to vote, but knew they wanted to cast their ballot for Mayor Rostislav Hakl (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) - and they also knew they wanted to get a wristband that would guarantee them free entry to a party with refreshments.
"They told me that if I voted for Mayor Hakl I would get a blue wristband from the [election] commission, and that would get me beverages and food at the event," news server iDNES.cz quoted voter Miroslav Rusnák as saying. David Raus, the presiding judge at the Brno Regional Court, which heard the case after the election, ruled that, "It has been proven that only people who had voted could attend the party. About 600 people went to it."
Election commissioners also testified to the court, and their testimonies described the behavior of some Romani voters at the polls, all in very similar terms. News server Romea.cz reported last November on the trial: "The commissioners' testimonies were all in agreement that several dozen Roma came to the polls who did not know how to vote. 'They were shouting to each other between the booths to vote for Hakl,' testified Václav Malý. According to Iva Marečková, the Romani voters wanted a wristband that would serve as a ticket to a party in exchange for voting for Mayor Hakl. Another commissioner, Monika Gabryšová, testified that some Romani voters had stated they were going to vote for Mayor Hakl and asked how to do that, while others asked for the blue wristband so they could get beverages and food for free. Tomáš Kvapilík testified that he had experienced the same situation."
On the website of the Oživení (Renewal) NGO, which participated in monitoring the local elections, we can read the following about the course of the polls in Brno-sever: "All but unbelievable vote-buying also took place in Brno. Individual testimonies prove that voters participated in the elections in exchange for special wristbands that served as a ticket to a party in the Musilka club, where the food and the program were free of charge. These voters were accompanied by 'vote coordinators', who, in their own words, explained to the voters how to vote."
The Brno Regional Court invalidated the election results in November 2014. Now that decision has been overturned by the Czech Constitutional Court.
I wanted to teach the Roma to vote...
The party in question was given by Romani entrepreneur Adam Adámek. He does not deny it and makes no secret of the fact that he himself voted for Rostislav Hakl because of the mayor's favorable inclinations toward the Romani community.
Adámek, of course, rejects allegations that he influenced voters in any way and says he just wanted to get them to the polls and teach them how to vote. "I will run myself in two years during the regional elections and then in the local ones. Our people will vote for me because I'm doing my best to find them jobs and I want them to live well. That's also why I put the whole event together, so they could learn to vote. They underwent a training where the process was explained to them. They could then go to the party in return," he explained in court.
In other words, Adámek wanted to train Romani people to know how to vote so they can vote for him in two years during the regional elections. In exchange for their completing the training, he offered them free refreshments.
Adámek also never hid the fact that he supports Rostislav Hakl. However, he evidently does not have anything to do with the fact that confused Romani voters then asked election staffers at the polls for wristbands - or with the fact that as a group, they all voted for Hakl.
A chilling message from the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court has now stated that what happened in Brno is not that much different from an ordinary election campaign. One person offers the voters donuts, another offers them a cutlet at a party in exchange for a training.
Some voters are confused and don't know how to vote, others are more disciplined and experienced, but the results are the same: Everyone is, to some degree, influenced by the offers made during the political campaigns. It is, therefore, basically also normal for one Romani entrepreneur, who according to his own words invested CZK 100 000 into the post-election party, to dominate a significant portion of the Romani electorate in a particular precinct.
He promises them a cutlet and they go to the polls. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't participate at all.
These voters wouldn't participate without this incentive because they do not have the feeling that they might actually ever change or influence things. The fundamental question is: To what degree is that feeling justified?
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