Czechs started voting in elections to the European Parliament on Friday with over 800 candidates in the running for the country’s 21 seats in the assembly. While the number of parties and groupings fielding candidates in the European elections has grown, voter turnout is traditionally expected to lag behind the EU average.
There is clearly no lack of interest in winning a place in the 751-strong European Parliament. These are the country’s third elections to the assembly and a record 38 parties and movements have fielded candidates, which translates into more than 40 contenders for one mandate. Besides the traditional parties who are each defending a number of seats in the European assembly, and those who have repeatedly failed in the past, there are several newcomers for whom the 2014 European elections are a premiere.
However the broad array of contenders in these elections is not expected to draw more than the usual one third of the country’s eight million or so eligible voters to the polls. Campaigning has been fairly low-profile with parties curbing their expenditures, partly because elections to the European Parliament come just seven months after national elections and partly because of the traditionally low voter turnout which does not encourage parties to spend money. In 2009 only 28 percent of voters cast their ballot and even the country’s first elections to the European Parliament in 2004 did not spark greater enthusiasm. Pundits say this is largely due to the fact that Czechs are still generally uninformed about the workings of the European Parliament and that in many cases people feel their vote will not make a difference in the 751-strong assembly representing 500 million people around Europe.
In an effort to get noticed in the strong competition for seats, parties usually selected one pivotal issue around which they based their campaign – the need to create new jobs, change Europe’s immigration policy, improve the country’s poor record in drawing EU funds, green issues or a rejection of the euro. Attitudes ranged from the pro-European to the downright nationalist – and even included attempts to amuse such as a video spot highlighting the unfairness of the fact that unemployed people in the Czech Republic are “missing out on office sex”.
Czechs who decide to cast their ballot in one of the close to 15,000 polling stations around the country will have the chance to give two candidates preferential votes or else they can just support one party or grouping as a whole. Although polling stations are due to close at 10 pm on Saturday the results of the elections will not be made public until polls close in the last EU member state – i.e. close to midnight on Sunday.