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Roma candidate now on local council after Czech municipal elections

Czech Republic, 19.10.2010 9:37, (ROMEA)

The municipal elections held this past weekend have rejected the "godfathers" of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Votes went instead to the largest left-wing party, ČSSD, and to political newcomers TOP 09. In addition to the surprise successes of newly established associations and the deep losses for the Public Affairs Party (Věcí veřejné), an old familiar malady has also resurfaced - the buying of socially disadvantaged persons' votes. Of the three Roma candidates with whom we published interviews prior to the elections, only one has succeeded: Marcel Cichý (ODS) is now a council member in Trmice.

Nothing wrong with a few hundred crowns

Reports of vote-buying in socially excluded localities predominantly inhabited by Roma are part of the "folklore" of elections in the Czech Republic. A couple hundred crowns for voting, the candidate list for the party in hand, and it's off to the polls, where the election commission explains all that is required, often to persons who are voting for the first time in years. This year during the municipal elections vote-buying allegedly occurred in Krupka, Ostrava, the Libeň quarter of Prague, and Chodov. The district election commission called the media and less frequently, the police, which is powerless to influence such behavior.

Lawyer Pavel Uhl has confirmed to news server Romea.cz that according to Czech law, this behavior is essentially legal. "Everyone freely chooses how to vote, but how that free will is influenced is not crucial," Uhl explained in an e-mail. On the other hand, it is illegal to attempted to influence a voter at the polling place, in the voting booth, or to attempt to verify his or her vote by checking the candidate lists left over after a ballot has been cast.

"Whether someone's will is influenced by the fact that he got some free goulash at a campaign event, or by the candidate promising to increase his pension, or by receiving a few hundred crowns beforehand, it is not in violation of the law," Uhl explains. Similar statements were made over the weekend by the town hall of Sokolov, various election commissions, and the police. All that can be done is to appeal to the voters themselves and explain that selling one's vote deprives the elections of their meaning, which is to be a basic tool of democracy. By selling your vote, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to live in a real democracy.

Marcel Cichý now a council member

Marcel Cichý, second on the candidate list of the Civic Democrats, has won a council seat in Trmice, a village of 3 000 near Ústí nad Labem. "My greatest wish is for us to succeed in establishing greater civic engagement on the part of the Roma," candidate Cichý said last week in an interview for news server Romea.cz.

The Civic Democrats received almost 16 % of the vote in Trmice, coming in second place behind the Mayors and Independents' Movement (hnutí Starostové a nezávislí) led by former mayor Jana Oubrechtová. The main topic of the elections was safety on the streets, vandalism, and the stench coming from an industrial alcohol production facility. "It is a bit of a disappointment for me, I expected us to do better. Now everything depends on the coalition negotiations," Cichý told Romea.cz by phone. Those negotiations were to have taken place yesterday.

The other two Roma candidates interviewed by Romea.cz, entrepreneur Martin Bajger (also running in Trmice), and the sailor and columnist Drahomír Radek Horváth, a candidate for the Democratic Choice Party (Strana demokratické volby) in Děčín, did not make it onto their town councils.

Gwendolyn Albert, cop, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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