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Six Romani men, one Romani woman running for the Czech lower house

20.10.2017 21:43
Romani candidates in the 2017 elections to the Czech Chamber of Deputies, from left to right:  David Tišer, Karel Karika, Martin Bajger, David Beňák and Anna Chválová (Collage: Romea.cz)
Romani candidates in the 2017 elections to the Czech Chamber of Deputies, from left to right: David Tišer, Karel Karika, Martin Bajger, David Beňák and Anna Chválová (Collage: Romea.cz)

Today and tomorrow, 31 movements and parties will strive to be seated in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. This time there is no party whose main aim is to win the interest of national minorities in the country.

During previous elections, the Roma Democratic Party (Romská demokratická strana - RDS) has fielded candidates. During the 2013 Parliamentary elections, candidates with the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP) ran on the candidate list of the Green Party (Strana zelených - SZ).

This time, representatives of the Romani minority are at least listed on some of the candidate lists of majority-society movements and parties. News server Romea.cz has learned of seven Romani people, four of them on candidate lists for the Green Party, one on the Social Democrats' list, one on the candidate list of the "patriotic"-profiled "Movement of the Order of the Nation", and one on the list of the Republican Party (SPR - RSČ) of Miroslav Sládek, a party that was infamous during the 1990s for its racist remarks against Romani people.

Another Romani candidate, František Šarišský, is an alternate on the Pirates' candidate list in the Zlín Region. Voters will be able to choose representatives of the Vietnamese minority living in the Czech Republic as well who are running on the candidate lists of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) or the Pirates' Party.

Seven Romani candidates, four of them for the Green Party

Earlier this week news server Romea.cz published interviews with five Romani candidates. The Green Party is the only party to have deployed three Romani men and one Romani woman in this year's elections.

Romani "newcomers" to national politics this year include Anna Chválová, Karel Karika, Martin Bajger and David Tišer, who did run during the 2013 elections in third place on the Green Party candidate list in Plzeň. This year he is running in 13th place in Prague.

From the program of the Green Party it is apparent that the group has long reached out to all minorities living in the Czech Republic. Karika, speaking in an interview for Romea.cz, called its program comprehensive with regard to how society should behave not just toward minorities, but also toward senior citizens, women, and single mothers of young children.

Chválová, Bajger and Tišer all agreed with that assessment and identify with the Green Party program. The party has long supported measures combating discrimination on the basis of age, social position, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Tišer said in his interview with Romea.cz that the priority subjects he would like to dedicate himself to are the adoption of a law on social housing, introducing inclusive education into practice, regulating collections agencies and giving equal rights to same-sex families. He is convinced that the only guarantee that the interests and needs of Romani people will be advocated for is the presence of Romani people in Parliament.

The most recent member of the lower house to espouse her Romani minority identity was Monika Horáková (today Mihaličková), who was seated there from 1998 until 2002. Horáková was seated after running in second place on the candidate list of the now-defunct Freedom Union (Unie svobody) and became the youngest female member of the legislature.

Prior to her (if we do not consider the Romani MPs seated in the Czechoslovak legislature immediately after the 1989 Velvet Revolution), the Romani MP Ladislav Body served in the Czech lower house until 1996. Since 2002 - for 15 long years - no other Romani man or woman has been elected to the Parliament of the Czech Republic.

Despite the fact that Romani candidate Lucie Horváthová (today Fuková) ran in first place for the Green Party in 2010 in the Pardubice Region, she was not elected. According to Bajger and Karika, this year the candidate with the biggest chance of being seated in the lower house is David Beňák (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), who is running in 14th place in Prague and who has been Deputy Minister for Human Rights and Legislation since April of this year.

During the last lower house election the ČSSD won four seats in Prague, but this year, according to polls, there might be an even smaller number of votes cast for that party, and if Beňák is to be seated, he would have to win more than 3 500 preferential votes in order to bypass the candidates ahead of him on the list. "All candidates are electable. Why else do we have the opportunity to circle as many as four of them? I believe any voter can manage to choose the person whom he or she wants from that list, maybe even somebody in 14th place, and on the contrary, some candidates in the top 10 could experience an unpleasant surprise," Beňák told Romea.cz.

Karika said he would most prefer to see Beňák succeed the current Human Rights Minister, Jan Chvojka. Bajger also expressed support for Beňák's political career, even calling for Prague-based Romani voters to unite behind Beňák as their first choice.

When asked why Romani candidates were not elected to the lower house last time, Beňák told Romea.cz that Romani candidates do not have high profiles in public life society-wide, and that they do not take full advantage of the opportunities available in the public arena. "For the young generation of Romani people I feel doubly regretful that this is the case. They are educated, they have broader horizons, they know languages, they know how to communicate and use social networks, in short, they have all of the prerequisites for successfully contributing to influencing public affairs, " he said.

Beňák also lamented the fact that the absence of a law on social housing is quite palpable in the Czech Republic. "We already designed such a law during this electoral period, but ultimately and unfortunately it remains in the Chamber of Deputies," he said, adding that it will be up to the next Goverment and legislature what stance to take on addressing social difficulties.

Number of Romani candidates has significantly declined

Compared to the previous elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the number of Romani candidates has noticeably fallen. In 2013 there were 20 Romani men and women running for the lower house.

None of those candidates succeeded. Beňák did the best in 2013, with 2 275 preferential votes in Prague.

Those votes were not enough for him to be seated, though. Other Romani candidates who did relatively well in 2013 were Horváthová (today Fuková) with 370 preferential votes and Tišer with 271 preferential votes.

In 2013 there were five Romani candidates for the RDS in the Central Bohemian and Liberec Regions. The party came in last in Central Bohemia, with 395 votes (0.06 %).

In Liberec the RDS came in next to last, with 214 votes (0.1 %). The Equal Opportunities Party nominated seven members to the Green Party's candidate lists in 2013.

Those candidates won a total of 1 370 preferential votes. The best performance was in Prague, with boxing trainer Stanislav Tišer winning 630 votes, followed by Čeněk Růžička (194) and Elena Gorolová (131).

Romani candidates for extremist parties

Romea.cz also reached out to another Romani candidate, Vojtěch Kelt, who is running in ninth place for the "Order of the Nation" movement. After protracted negotiations about an interview, Kelt ultimately refused by text message, claiming work obligations.

Singer Tomáš Ortel, infamous for his hateful lyrics, has actively engaged in that movement's campaign - neo-Nazis attend concerts by his band, Ortel, and the members of Ortel themselves are involved with neo-Nazis and sympathize with their activities. When the band won second place in the Czech popular music awards last year, Romani singer Radek Banga left the ceremony in protest and was hen targeted with racist verbal assaults by Ortel fans.

Another candidate for that movement during the Senate elections was the anti-Romani politician Jiří Maria Sieber. Romea.cz has reported several times about him in connection with his disseminating hoaxes about Romani people allegedly receiving free light bulbs or washing machines.

Romea.cz never did manage to connect with another extremist Romani candidate, Vasil Gožo, who is running with the "Association for the Republic - Republican Party of Czechoslovakia" (SPR-RSČ) of Miroslav Sládek. According to Tomáš Froněk, who willingly attempted more than once to facilitate an interview with Gožo, the candidate did not feel like speaking with the Romani news outlet. 

According to Froněk, Gožo is an "angry citizen who is ashamed to be addressed as a Rom". Speaking on the telephone, Froněk quoted Gožo thus:  "He says that even a decent gypsy can run for a decent party."

The SPR-RSČ was the first party in Czechoslovakia to use anti-Roma rhetoric and to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies, where they were seated from 1992 until 1998. Sládek shocked the political scene by saying "Gypsies should be held crimially liable from birth, as that is their greatest crime."

Sládek disappeared from the political scene for a time and his party eventually declared bankruptcy. Currently he has returned and his racist rhetoric is the same as it was during the 1990s.

Historically, this is apparently the first time that Romani people have run for such parties in the Czech Republic. "It is crazy that Romani people are candidates for the Order of the Nation movement, or for ... Sládek. It is clear those parties are exploiting Romani candidates to get Romani votes. That flows from the Romani voters' ignorance about which party has what kind of values and which party actually wants to be involved with minorities and which wants to harm minorities," candidate Karika commented on these developments to Romea.cz.

Candidate Bajger is of a similar opinion. Romani people running for xenophobic parties should, in his view, attend a lecture to learn something about Romani identity, warning that "if they want to be turncoats like that, there is no way it will end well for them."

More women in Czech politics, but only one is Romani

On most of the candidate lists, compared to previous elections, far more women are appearing than ever before. The proportion of women running is the highest it has been in the history of the Czech Republic.

In recent years the Czech Republic has garnered criticism from the United Nations over the long-term low representation of women in politics. The Czech Republic is ranked 94th out of 193 countries assessed with respect to women's participation by the Interparliamentary Union.

Iraq and Somalia, for example, have a higher proportion of women in their lower houses than the Czech Republic does today. According to recent surveys, more women are seeking seats with left-wing parties than with right-wing ones.

In the Czech Chamber of Deputies, there could be more than the current 20 % of seats held by women after the elections. This year's candidate lists feature women in as many as 25 % of the electable places.

Nevertheless, on a big percentage of candidate lists, the female candidates come in last. That has been confirmed by Chválová, who is running for the Green Party in the lower house elections and is the sole Romani female candidate in the country.

"I am, for example, in 32nd place on the candidate list, and to some people that might mean I am unelectable, but I am mainly doing this to win votes for the party that I'm running for," she said in her interview for Romea.cz, noting that in addition to social housing she has long been interested in the subjects of gender and in the position of Romani women in society. Her fellow Green Party candidate in 26th place, Karika, the acting mayor of the municipal department of Ústí nad Labem where the Předlice quarter is located, also said he would unequivocally welcome more women in politics.

In an interview for Romea.cz, Karika warned that Romani people do not vote in large numbers. In his opinion, young Roma do not vote and leave politics up to senior citizens from the majority society.

"If you recall, in the past Roma votes have also been bought by some parties for a few crowns. The party gets a vote and the Roma get CZK 200 [EUR 8]. It is not possible to allow ourselves to be exploited that way," the acting mayor said.

Karika said that he and Bajger, who is running in 25th place, would like it if Romani voters in particular would give them preferential votes. Karika believes that will demonstrate whether Romani voters ultimately go to the polls in his area or not.

Elections will apparently be won by the ANO movement

This year's elections to the Chamber of Deputies are the seventh in the 24 years of existence of an independent Czech Republic. The votes of roughly eight million people will be sought by 31 electoral groupings, eight more than in 2013.

More than 7 500 candidates are competing for votes. There are more than 37 candidates per seat in the lower house.

Voter turnout will influence which parties will be most successful. Customarily about 60 % of eligible voters participate in the Czech Republic.

The unequivocal favorite party in these elections is considered to be the ANO movement, which will probably win more than the 47 seats it currently holds. However, according to experts, it is not certain that its anticipated victory will manage to guarantee that it can put together a majority Government.

The ČSSD is attempting its third victory in the lower house in a row. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) will apparently safely hold on to its place in the lower house, keeping its 33 seats.

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), after four years in opposition, would like to achieve a double-digit percentage result and has a chance of winning more than its current 16 seats. TOP 09, led by Miroslav Kalousek, will apparently have to reconcile itself to less support as it defends its 26 seats.

The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) are defending 14 lower house seats. The "Dawn" (Úsvit) party will disappear from the lower house map, as it is not independently fielding candidates this election.

"Dawn" establisher Tomio Okamura, however, will probably remain in the Chamber of Deputies as the boss of his new movement, "Freedom and Direct Democracy", thanks to the support of dissatisfied voters. The Pirates will also probably sail into the lower house, following up on their successes in previous types of elections as an alternative party.

 

Rena Horvátová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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ČSSD, Elections 2017, Extremism, Politics



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