Voting has ended in the country’s regional and Senate elections. An
estimated forty percent of eligible voters came to the polls to elect
governors to 13 of the country’s 14 regional assemblies and senators to
27 out of 81 constituencies.
The Social Democrats have come out top in all thirteen regions, winning 36 percent of the vote, the ruling Civic Democrats are second with 23 percent, followed by the Communists with 15 percent and the two other parties in government – the Christian Democrats with 6,5 percent of the vote, and the Green Party with 3 percent.
The Social Democrats also dominated the Senate elections, where 25 of their 27 candidates will be taking part in the second round of elections next week. Twenty Civic Democrat candidates have made it to the second round, as have three Christian Democrats. A second round of voting will be held next week in 26 constituencies where no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote. Social Democrat Radek Sušil was the only candidate to secure a seat in the Senate in the first round.
The leader of the ruling Civic Democrats, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has conceded defeat and urged voters to come to the polls in the second round of Senate elections in order to give the party a chance to maintain the Civic Democrats’ narrow majority in the Senate. Mr. Topolánek said that the party leadership would meet on Sunday to debate the party’s defeat.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Social Democrat Jiří Paroubek, whose party won outright in four of the 13 regions where voting took place and led in the remaining 9, has thanked voters for their support and promised that his party would stand by its election promises. He said the election was not over and urged them to come to the polls in the second round of elections to the Senate next weekend.
The balance of power in the Senate will be crucial for pending votes on planned reforms, the Lisbon treaty and Parliament’s approval for a US radar base to be built on Czech soil. The opposition Social Democrats are hoping that their strong showing in the elections will further undermine the government’s position and have initiated a no-confidence vote in the coalition government next Wednesday.
Czech top officials have welcomed a statement by US President George Bush according to which seven countries, including the Czech Republic, have met the criteria for the US visa waiver programme and would be given visa-free status with a month’s time. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said the abolition of US visas for Czech citizens would remove one of the last remnants of the Cold War era and further deepen good relations between the two countries. Although no date has been announced, Czech officials have indicated that it will most likely be November 17th, the anniversary of the student protests that led to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.
A 400-strong neo-Nazi march through the town of Litvínov ended in violent clashes with the police on Saturday afternoon, as officers barred the way to a part of town inhabited by a large Romany community. The police failed to restrain the extremists and some of them managed to slip through the police cordon to the Roma inhabited area, where some 200 Romanies were waiting for them armed with sticks and other weapons. Re-enforcements were brought in and the police eventually got the situation under control. Several people have been detained for questioning.
General František Hrabal, head of the President’s Military Office, has been charged with mismanagement of funds and breach of trust. The general is suspected of having spent hundreds of thousands of crowns from the office’s budget on promotional gifts for friends. If found guilty, he could face up to five years in prison. The same accusation has been leveled against two other generals. The news web site iDnes said the president had been informed about the matter. General Hrabal’s predecessor in office stepped down last autumn on suspicion of embezzlement. He resigned after it came to light that he had proposed a big financial bonus for himself.
An investigation continues into the cause of the fire that ravaged a whole wing of Prague’s historic art deco Industrial Palace at the city’s main exhibition grounds on Thursday night. The fire raged for most of the night and damages have been estimated at 1 billion crowns, the equivalent of around 50 million US dollars. The police are investigating a number of theories including the explosion of an oxygen container at one of the exhibition stalls, a short circuit and even arson. The blaze destroyed part of the building rented by the son of Social Democrat supporter Václav Kočka, whose other son was shot dead last week. The Kočka family, which holds the concession to run a fun-fair at the exhibition grounds, has in the past been accused of having links to organised crime.
South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor is planning to launch production at its new Czech plant in early November, according to the AFP news agency. The plant has not yet received all the permits it needs, but the local building office says everything should be settled on time. Hyundai expects to employ a total of 2,000 staff in the Czech plant by the end of the year and to produce 200,000 Hyundai i30 cars a year for European markets in the first phase, with an increase to 300,000 units by 2011. It will be the third largest car factory in the Czech Republic, a country where car production makes up 18 percent of GDP, after Škoda Auto and TPCA, a joint venture of Toyota and PSA Peugeot Citroen.
US President George W Bush has named seven countries, including the Czech Republic, as having met the criteria for being added to the United States’ visa waiver programme. Others include the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Also on the list: the Czech Republic’s neighbour, Slovakia. Mr Bush said on Friday other countries were also on the path towards visa waiver. The United States requires that countries seeking inclusion in the programme issue tamper-proof biometric passports. Countries are also required to see only a low number of US visa applications rejected annually.
A large part of Prague’s historic Výstaviště Industrial Palace was
destroyed by a major fire on Thursday evening. The fire broke out in the
Art Nouveau building around 7 pm. Fire officers have refused to speculate
about the cause, but arson has not been ruled out. The blaze destroyed
part of the building rented by the son of Social Democrat supporter
Václav Kočka, whose other son was shot dead last week. The Kočka
which holds the concession to run a fun-fair at Výstaviště, has in the
past been accused of having links to organised crime.
Prague’s mayor, Pavel Bém, said he would push for the complete renovation of the building. So far, damages have been estimated at between 800 million and 1 billion crowns, the equivalent of around 50 million US dollars. On Friday afternoon, the firm leasing the Výstaviště site, including the industrial palace, announced it had been insured for 2.5 billion crowns. The impressive steel-and-glass Výstaviště Industrial Palace officially opened in March 1891. In recent years the Art Nouveau palace and its grounds have again fulfilled their original purpose as a venue for exhibitions and trade-fairs, as well as cultural events.
In related news, the fire which destroyed part of the site on Thursday has raised questions about the future exhibiting of the Slav Epic, a famous series of paintings by the Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha. It has been planned that the paintings would be moved from their location of 45 years at Moravský Krumlov, in southern Moravia, and housed at the Křižík Pavilion in Prague. The pavilion on the exhibition grounds was undamaged by the blaze. But some have criticised the site as a poor choice on account of renovation needed and the fact that it lies in a flood-danger zone. Moravský Krumlov has made clear it will seek reassurances over the site; a contract over the Slav Epic has been negotiated between Prague and the Moravian town but has not yet been signed.
Czechs are going to the polls on Friday and Saturday in elections to
decide on almost all of the country’s regional assemblies and a third of
the seats in the Senate. A second round of voting will take place next
weekend in Senate elections in which no candidate takes more than 50
percent of the vote. The elections are being seen as a test for the
party in the coalition government, the Civic Democrats, who now control 12
of 13 regional assemblies and hold a Senate majority.
The coalition government faces a no-confidence vote next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, politicians casting their votes on Friday urged Czechs to take part in the voting process: Senate and regional elections in the Czech Republic traditionally have a lower voter turn out than parliamentary elections.