Current Affairs Prague district referendum - an exercise in direct democracy
As Czechs went to the polls at the weekend, some had more choices to make than just choosing the next president. In seven places around the country, people also took part in local referenda, voting mostly on issues concerning public property. In the district of Prague 7 the referendum was meant to decide on how the town hall should go about putting up a new administrative building for the district. With more than 40% participation, an overwhelming majority rejected a plan to build a new administrative building for the district which many consider to be overpriced. Radio Prague spoke to a representative of the initiative behind the referendum, Jan Čižinský, and asked why they decided to organize it.
“Our mayor and the city council wanted to construct a new city hall that would cost one billion crowns, or about 40 million euros. And Prague 7 [town hall] has 240 employees, so the price per single employee was the same as the price for a new 100 m2 apartment. And no architectural competition was held. So we organized a referendum to improve the price and to make them hold an architectural competition.”
Who was involved in organizing the referendum?
“There were three civil associations and also three political parties from the opposition. We came together in this referendum project.”
Was there a lot of opposition to your initiative from the town hall?
“It wasn’t easy. We had to collect the signatures of 10% of all the Prague 7 inhabitants. And even to simply meet 10% of inhabitants isn’t easy. But we collected the signatures within two months. And then we had to win a legal battle with the mayor and city council [over whether the referendum could be held]. And after a year we won in court and the referendum was organized.”
More than forty percent of Prague 7 residents took part in the referendum, and the vast majority made it clear that they want the town hall to spend less and for it to be more transparent. Do you think that the fact that people were able to bring about this change will have an impact on the overall mood or even political participation?
“I hope so, and I hope that it will strengthen the civil society not only in Prague 7. Civil associations or inhabitants of other Prague districts have contacted us. And they are interested in our experience and know-how in how to organize a referendum. For example, inhabitants of Prague 8 or Prague 10 have similar problems to the ones we have in Prague 7. And they also want to organize a referendum about very expensive project in their district.”
Do you think that the town hall will adhere to the decision of the voters? Do you expect any problems in the future?
“I don’t expect big problems. I think the results will be respected by the mayor and by the city council. But of course we will be watching them very closely.”