Exit polls for the Czech Republic's first ever European parliamentary
elections suggest a comfortable victory for the country's eurosceptic
parties. According to the estimates released shortly after voting ended on
Saturday, the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats won 31 percent of
the vote, the largely unreconstructed opposition Communists 17 percent,
and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's ruling Social Democratic party
finished in third place with just 10.5 percent. They are closely followed
by the strongly pro-EU European Democrats with 10 percent and the
Independents with 8.5 percent of the vote. If the exit polls are confirmed
by the final results, which are expected to come in early on Monday
morning, the Civic Democrats would gain nine of the country's 24 seats in
parliament; the Communists would obtain five seats, and the Social
Democrats three seats. The exit polls were carried out for Czech
Television by the SC&C agency.
The preliminary estimates also suggest that less than one in three voters bothered to cast ballots in the Czech Republic. For political commentator Bohumil Dolezal, the low voter turnout came as no surprise as Czechs no longer find elections to be exciting and new as was the case in the years after the fall of Communism. Today, he says, the enthusiasm is rapidly wearing off as people are getting fed up.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) holds hearings on Monday on charges filed by Liechtenstein against Germany over property seized in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. Liechtenstein has brought the case to the Court on the grounds that the Federal Republic of Germany has treated Liechtenstein property in former Czechoslovakia as if it were German foreign property and used it in the settlement of its war debts. Liechtenstein considers this to be a violation of its sovereignty and of the property rights of its citizens and has asked the ICJ to declare that Germany had violated international law. Liechtenstein has been laying claim to property it acquired under the Habsburg Empire when the Liechtensteins were a powerful noble family in Austria and owned land, castles, and numerous art work on Czech territory.
A former commander of a Nazi German army unit charged with the murder of 164 people at the end of World War II worked as a double agent for the United States, writes Focus magazine. Quoting CIA documents, the weekly reports in its latest edition that Ladislav Niznansky worked as a double agent for the CIA just after he was recruited by the Czechoslovak Secret Service in 1947 to keep tabs on the communist opposition in Austria. According to Focus magazine, he supplied the CIA with codenames, the addresses of safe houses and helped turn in agents. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1962 by a Czech court. Niznansky, who obtained German citizenship in 1996 and is now 86 years old, was arrested in January after a probe by Czech and Slovak officials and is now in custody in Munich, southern Germany.
Police in Austria have detained two Czech nationals suspected of people smuggling. Four illegal immigrants were found hidden in their min-vans after they were stopped by the police on a road close to Vienna. A third man, also believed to be Czech, drove off and managed to escape from the police. The immigrants from China have confessed that they paid between 10,000-40,000 Euros to get from Beijing to Austria. After travelling from Beijing to Moscow, they were forced to work to pay for part of their trip. They then took a train to Prague, from where they were smuggled across the border into Austria, hidden in the Czechs' mini-vans.
In reaction to the exit poll results, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla
said the government was prepared to hold out to the end of its
four-year mandate in 2006 but he acknowledged his party's defeat.
"I can see a number of reasons for our party's poor showing. It is very difficult to take over in such a turbulent time. Also, at the moment our party is searching for new, more modern policies. The third reason, I think, is the extremely low turnout, favouring parties with a hard core of faithful voters, which isn't the case of the Social Democrats."
The opposition Civic Democrats' top candidate for the European Parliament, Jan Zahradil, called the election result a symbolic "vote of no confidence" for the government. He said the reason behind his party's election success was the fact that they presented a consistent European manifesto and also a strong opposition alternative to the policies of the Social Democrat-led government. Mr Zahradil also commented on the low turnout.
"Many people don't know exactly what the European Union will mean for them, both in the positive and negative senses. Such people are less motivated to come out and vote. I think the low turnout is also a response to the pro-European propaganda of the last few years."
The Justice Minister Karel Cermak has announced his decision to hand in his resignation. He said the reason behind his move was the government's decision to cut end-of-year bonuses for judges. The 69-year-old former head of the Czech Bar Association was appointed Justice Minister in September 2003. He replaced Pavel Rychetsky who left the post to become the chairman of the Czech Republic's Constitutional Court.
The Czech Republic's top officials attended a memorial ceremony on Saturday on the site of Lidice, the Central Bohemian village that the Nazis razed to the ground 62 years ago in retaliation for the assassination of the Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. Speaking at the ceremony, President Vaclav Klaus said that Europe had a new chance to overcome the wounds of the past. Both President Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla criticised attempts at revising history and playing down the Lidice atrocity. On June 10th 1942, 173 men were shot and the women and children were transported to concentration camps. Of the children only seventeen survived.
Exit polls for the Czech Republic's first ever European Parliament elections, carried out by the SC&C agency for Czech Television, suggest a comfortable victory for eurosceptic parties. They estimate that the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have won 31 percent of the vote, followed by the largely unreconstructed opposition Communists with 17 percent. According to the exit polls, support for the ruling Social Democrats of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla collapsed with only 10.5 percent of the vote. They are closely followed by the strongly pro-EU European Democrats with 10 percent and the Independents grouped around former media magnate Vladimir Zelezny with 8.5 percent. The poll puts the number of votes for the Christian Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, at around 8 percent. Preliminary estimates suggest only a 29-percent turnout, despite analysts predicting that 40 percent of the electorate would turn out over the two days.
The Czech Republic was the first of the new European Union member states where voters went to the polls, to elect 24 members of the European Parliament from almost 800 candidates from 31 political parties and groupings. In line with EU legislation, counting will not begin until 10 pm on Sunday after voting has wrapped up in all 25 EU member states.
The Defence Minister, Miroslav Kostelka, paid a brief visit on Friday to the Czech special forces unit in Afghanistan. The elite troops from the Prostejov military base are on a 6-month mission in the mountains of Afghanistan as part of the US-led anti-terrorist operation Enduring Freedom. They are being deployed in operations involving fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters. Minister Kostelka said the Czech soldiers had earned great respect from the allied units.