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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Czech general elections set for the end of this week the opposition Coalition, made-up of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-DEU, has outlined terms important to its parties in possible post-election negotiations- negotiations which will almost certainly be required to form what is expected to be a coalition government in the Czech Republic. The Coalition's terms include a commitment to move on several issues including the fight against corruption, improvement in social support for the family, and opening up of Czech universities to a greater student body. Another important term outlined on Tuesday in possible cabinet dealings was a clear pro-European Union stance.
The State Authority for Nuclear Safety has given the green light on Monday for the resumption of test operation of the first reactor of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. The activation resulted in new protests from Czech and Austrian environmentalists as well as representatives of Austrian parties who claimed allowing the reactor's trial operation after 31 defects and 200 days of temporary shutdowns was irresponsible. Anti-nuclear activists have also announced that they have found new important evidence that proved the Temelin plant was unsafe, calling for it to be shut down immediately.