This Saturday afternoon polls closed bringing to an end two days of
regional and Senate elections in the Czech Republic. The polls closed at
two in the afternoon local time. As was widely predicated voter turn-out
was on the low end of the scale, at around just 29 percent.
With the majority of constituencies in the regions now counted success for the right-of centre Civic Democrats, led by party chairman Mirek Topolanek, is certain.
In the race for regional governments the opposition Civic Democrats have garnered the greatest percentage of votes, leading in 12 out of 13 regions, which they are expected to win. The Communist Party, and the ruling Social Democrats came in 2nd and 3rd in voter preference. One region in south Moravia is being closely contested by the Christian Democrats.
In the Senate, meanwhile, 65 percent of the ballots counted show the Civic Democrats leading in 15 Senate races, while the Communists lead in 6, and the Christian Democrats in 4. Smaller party representatives are vying for the last two spots.
Senate run-offs will take place in two weeks' time.
Police have found the body of Stanislav Brunclik, a businessman
abducted by kidnappers in late September. The abductors were paid
several million crowns in ransom by the victim's father, but Mr
Brunclik, who was 33, was never released. Following a police search
lasting over a month the man's body was finally found buried in a
forest in the Pardubice region of east Bohemia.
Police have already arrested two suspects in the case: two men in their mid-twenties; if found guilty of murder each could face between 12 and 15 years in prison, or could even be given extraordinary sentences of 25 years.
The Social Democrats' party chairman Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has rued his party's poor performance in the both the regional and Senate elections; on Saturday Mr Gross told journalists that he was "not happy" with the results. But, Mr Gross suggested that low voter turn-out had helped both the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the Communist Party; he did say at the moment it appeared he had little choice but to congratulate the Civic Democratic Party. The regional and Senate elections were widely seen as the prime minister's first big political test since taking over leadership of his party, following the Social Democrats' dismal showing in European parliamentary elections in June.
The Czech Republic registered this year's first snowfall in Krusny Hory (Krusny Mountains) near the region of the famous Bohemian spa town Karlovy Vary. Two centimetres of snow covered roads in the area. Snow was expected in the area after temperatures dropped Friday. This evening the area will see just 0 degrees Celsius.
On Friday the Chamber of Deputies postponed passing a bill allowing the legal registration of same-sex partnerships in the Czech Republic; as was widely expected the Chamber returned the bill for a second reading at the end of November. The second reading may allow for additional changes before deputies vote near the end of the year. The legal recognition of same sex-partnership remains a heated issue among parliamentary parties, with factions within each party for or against. Only the Christian Democrats unequivocally oppose the bill, which, if passed, could give same-sex partners the right to medical information or the right to inherit, while, for example, banning them from adopting children.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has said that it is not yet certain
whether the Czech Republic will hold a referendum on the EU
constitutional treaty, and if so, when the referendum will take place.
However, the prime minister has said he hoped the constitution would be
ratified. On Friday Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda pointed out that the
question of shortening the process of ratification had been raised in
Brussels, to not take a full two years among all EU states.
Originally, the Czech government said it aimed to hold its referendum on the constitution treaty in June 2006, simultaneously with general elections.
The deadline for the ratification of the EU constitution is October 2006.
Jaromir Jagr, one of the most successful Czech hockey players of all time, is expected to play his last game in the Czech league on Friday evening. Jagr, like dozens of other Czech stars, has been playing in the Extraliga due to a lock-out in the NHL. But he is expected to leave the club where he began his career, Kladno, for an engagement at Russia's Omsk.
The ruling Social Democrats have successfully pushed a bill through the
Chamber of Deputies banning the further transformation of hospitals to
businesses by regional authorities in the Czech Republic. Some regions
had been considering transforming local hospitals to joint-stock
companies to help with their financial management a move some critics
had said threatened the availability of balanced health care. The fear
was that the hospitals might focus only on more lucrative programmes.
But, the Social Democrats' bill on Friday was opposed by the opposition Civic Democrats, who say the ban is 'unconstitutional' - intervening in regional governments' authority. Regional governors have already criticised the bill and say they will protest the move.
The issue may also go to the Constitutional Court.
The Czech Republic, along with the other EU member states of the so-called Visegrad group, which includes Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, has been urged by EU heads to meet Schengen zone standards as soon as possible over the next few years. Joining the Schengen zone will see the Czech Republic and other new EU member states drop state border controls with EU neighbours. On the final day of a meeting between EU heads in Brussels, Czech representatives set October 2007 as the likely date for the country to join the Schengen zone. Among other things, the widening of the zone requires a harmonization of protocol on asylum and illegal migration.
The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, has spoken out against anti-American feelings across Europe. Mr Svoboda said in Prague on Thursday that anti-Americanism was a great disappointment to him, adding that Anglo-Saxon society had never experienced totalitarianism. He said that the United States had helped Europe and the Czech Republic and the Euro-Atlantic link was the key to Europe's future.