With elections to local councils and a third of the Senate just six weeks away, politicians are once again taking to the streets in a bid for voter support. Financially exhausted by last years’ general elections and elections to the European Parliament just three months ago, parties are spending less money on billboards and ads in favour of direct voter contact campaigns.
Balloons, doughnuts and grilled sausages are once again appearing in the streets of Czech towns and cities as smiling, upbeat politicians make a fresh bid for voter support. If there is any election fatigue to be seen, it is not on the side of the country’s politicians. A record 165 parties and movements are fielding 234,000 candidates for 60,000 seats on local councils and 244 candidates are vying for 27 seats in the Senate. Although the number of women running for seats on local councils is significantly higher than in 2010, women still make up only a third of the overall number of candidates. Of the 244 candidates running for seats in the Senate only 37 are women. And the average age of candidates to municipalities is slightly higher this year – 47, with the oldest candidate being a sprightly 95.
The leading parties launched their election campaigns in the big cities at the start of the week and others are about to follow suit. The campaign strategy in local elections differs from party to party and town to town. While some are organizing debates, others are going for freebies, balloons and entertainment. Election promises also vary depending on the needs of the given locality – a new road, parking site or sports center. Some election promises are staples – the fight against corruption, more transparent use of EU funds, support for local enterprise, welfare, social and environmental themes. Some parties – such as the ruling Social Democrats – want to use these contact campaigns as a referendum on their performance in office and all politicians taking to the streets say they are ready to accept criticism along with people’s concerns.
Political analyst Petr Just says that while the idea of fewer billboards and more face-to-face debates may sound attractive it is not likely to last and the billboards and ads will soon come into play as the campaigns gather momentum.
“Of course we have heard this several times in the past from politicians and political parties. They always said “no billboards, no big commercials, lets go among the people -on the streets, on the squares – and talk to them, but at the end of the day it is always the same and the billboards and commercials are included in the campaign. Of course, you can understand why they say they are not going to use them –they want to show themselves as being more personal, more caring, interested in people’s concerns which you can only learn about by talking to them. But you can also understand why in the end they turn to the billboards and commercials and that’s because they give them the chance to address many more people than those who happen to be walking by. “
Elections to local councils along with the first round of Senate elections will take place on October 11th and 12th. Many municipalities have used the opportunity to link them up to local referenda. Traditionally, participation in these elections is quite high – in 2010 the voter turnout was 48.5 percent.