Early election results from the Czech Republic's two day parliamentary
elections show a clear victory for the country's left wing
parties. The ruling Social Democrats have won the elections with over 30
percent of the vote. This positions party leader Vladimir
Spidla for the top government post. Shortly after the news broke Mr.
Spidla shared his feelings with Radio Prague:
" It is a clear victory for the Social Democrats. The Social Democratic Party has established itself as a stable political force which is a permanent part of the Czech political scene and has a potential for the future. We are a strong party in our own right and people trust us."
The Social Democrats attracted voters by promising to build a dense web of social security and benefits. The party's main slogan was "We won't leave you in the cold".
The Social Democrats' main rival , the centre-right Civic Democratic party led by the former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, received over 24% of the votes and has openly admitted defeat. Mr. Klaus said he would consider his share of responsibility for the defeat and inform the public of his plans for the future after consulting with the party leadership.
In a surprise development the Communist party has placed third with more than 18 percent of the vote outstripping the Coalition, an alliance of two centre-right parties. According to early results the Coalition has received more than 14 percent of the votes. No other party has crossed the 5% threshold needed to win parliamentary seats.
For the first time ever, Czechs living abroad were also able to take part in the elections. Voting took place at Czech embassies and consulates, but the number of people who registered to vote abroad was much lower than expected. Of the estimated 70,000 eligible voters only around 2,000 registered. It is not yet clear how many of them actually cast their ballot.
The first reactor at the Temelin nuclear power station in south Bohemia went back into operation on Thursday night despite statements by officials at the plant earlier on Thursday that it would be shut down for a week to deal with a suspected leak. The power station is once again supplying electricity to the national grid. Temelin has suffered from repeated faults since the launch of the plant began in October 2000, and critics say it is unsafe.
Meanwhile, voting has also been taking place at Czech embassies and consulates around the world. It is the first time Czechs living abroad have been allowed to vote in elections in the Czech Republic. However, the number of Czechs who registered to vote was much lower than had been anticipated. Of the estimated 70,000 who were eligible, only around 2,000 registered.
The Czech Republic's eight million voters have begun casting their ballots
in elections to the Czech lower house. The polls opened at two o'clock
on Friday afternoon, and will close at ten on Friday night, before opening
again on Saturday at eight am and closing at two in the afternoon,
when vote-counting will begin. No party is expected to win a
majority and either the governing Social Democrats or the Civic Democratic
Party are expected to get the most seats in the 200-seat lower house.
Among the first to cast their ballots were President Vaclav Havel and the outgoing prime minister, Milos Zeman, as well as the leaders of several of the biggest parties.
Polling stations at Czech embassies and consulates opened for Czech citizens living abroad on Thursday. This year's election is the first time Czech ex-pats have been allowed to take part in elections in their home country. Polling booths in the Czech Republic will not open until Friday afternoon, but Czechs living abroad are being asked to vote a day earlier to eradicate problems with the time difference, especially in the Americas. Czech embassies and consulates have registered minimal interest in the elections, and only a few hundred Czech citizens living abroad are expected to vote. According to unofficial estimates there are about 70,000 Czech citizens living abroad, many of whom have criticised the fact that they have to travel to distant embassies rather than cast their votes by post.
A power-generating turbine at the first reactor of the Temelin nuclear plant was shut down again on Thursday morning only hours after the power station was reconnected to the national grid on Wednesday evening. The plant had been shut down on Monday because of the same problem. A spokesman has said technicians will replace insulation in the electric part of the turbine, adding that the latest stoppage did not affect the nuclear reactors. Since the controversial plant was launched in October 2000, it has been plagued with technical faults and has been shut down dozens of times. The shutdown comes just days after government regulators approved a request to graduate the first unit from the "testing" stage of operation to the "trial" stage. Last month, regulators approved the test start-up of Unit 2.
Germany's conservative candidate for chancellor, Edmund Stoiber, has said the abolition of the so-called Benes decrees is not a condition for Czech admission to the European Union, but the two issues are connected. Mr Stoiber, leader of the opposition Christian Social Union party, said he hoped the Czech Republic would start dealing with history more openly after the elections. Some two and a half million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945, under decrees signed by President Eduard Benes. Politicians in Germany and Austria have called for the decrees to be abolished before the Czech Republic is allowed to join the EU.
The Temelin nuclear plant was shut down on Tuesday night because of an apparent problem with a power-generating turbine. A spokesman said technicians were investigating a possible leak in the Unit 1 turbine, which has been plagued with technical problems since the plant was launched in October 2000. The spokesman said the latest hitch posed no danger to the public and did not affect the plant's two nuclear reactors. The shutdown comes just two days after government regulators approved a request to graduate the first unit from the "testing" stage of operation to the "trial" stage. Last month, regulators approved the test start-up of Unit 2.
In other election news, Czech embassies around the world are getting ready for the vote. This year's ballot will be the first in which Czechs abroad will be taking part, although far less registered than originally expected. The embassy in Dublin, for example, has estimated that only around 50 Czech expatriates in Ireland will cast their ballot, while the number of Czechs expected to vote in London has proven more difficult to gauge.