Election commissioners say the number of invalid votes in the weekend elections was exceptionally high and may have been a form of protest on the part of disgruntled voters. Statistics reveal that the number of invalid votes was double the number in past years in several regions and analysts are linking it to calls made by a number of public initiatives who advised people to go to the polls but to invalidate their vote by casting an empty envelope or ripping up the ballot sheet.
Negotiations have got underway on the formation of regional governments in the wake of the weekend elections. The overwhelming support for left-wing parties –seen as a show of opposition to the government’s austerity drive – opens the way for the formation of left-wing coalitions with a significantly bigger role for the Communist Party than in previous years. The opposition Social Democrats came first in 9 out of 13 regions, though they had won in all of them in 2008, with the Communist Party hard on their heels in most. While the Civic Democrats triumphed in the Pilsen region alone, the current coalition of the Social Democrats and Communists is likely to continue there as well. In other regions the Christian Democrats, the Zemanites and regional groupings have a chance of playing a role in government.
The EU may withhold hundreds of millions of crowns in subsidies for the Czech operational programme Education for Competitiveness, the Czech Supreme Auditing Office said on Monday. The auditing authority revealed problems with project- evaluation, selection and supervision, a spokeswoman for the office said. The Education for Competitiveness operational programme has faced problems for years; Education Minister Petr Fiala warned earlier this year the Czech Republic may be unable to receive between four and five billion crowns from the programme due to poorly prepared projects and delays.
Members of the so-called Tofl gang have gone on trial in Brno. The gang is named after a former head of the regional economic crime squad who together with several former colleagues threatened and bribed entrepreneurs. They elicited large sums of money for withdrawing trumped up charges against them and in some cases even threatened to murder or abduct family members if the money was not delivered. Thirteen members of the gang are standing trial in a process that may take months. The court is preparing to hear over 100 witnesses. If convicted the men would each face up to 16 years in prison.
Prime Minister Nečas –who is under fire for his party’s election debacle - has said the government may review some of the labour ministry’s decisions in the sphere of welfare payments. The prime minister said that the introduction of the so-called S-card – and electronics card for welfare payments – was a case in point. The card has come under fire by the opposition and those eligible for welfare support who say they would lose money on it. TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg also said on Monday he would be in favour of tempering somewhat the social impact of the government’s reforms. Labour Minister Drábek, who is leaving office at the end of the month in connection with the bribery scandal surrounding his deputy, said it was possible to back-track on any of the ministry’s projects –the question was who would pay for the money wasted.
The winner of this year’s Czech Press Photo is photographer Milan Jaroš of Respekt with his photo of people mourning ex-president Vaclav Havel on Wenceslas Square. A photograph of Mr. Havel’s widow Dagmar won in the People in the News category. And David W. Černý, a Prague based photographer for Reuters won in the Contemporary Issue category with a photo of a bar during the recent prohibition on spirits.
The Czech Republic will not lend a series of valuable arte-facts currently shown within the Europa Jagelonica exhibition to Poland. The exhibition co-organized by the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany is to move from Kutna Hora to Warsaw. The culture ministry fears that the Czech cultural arte-facts could be confiscated on a court order over the country’s drawn-out dispute with Diag Human. The culture ministry said that, unlike Germany, Poland had not been able to offer guarantees that the arts objects would be protected from seizure.
Presidential candidate, former prime minister, Jan Fischer has forged ahead of his rivals with close to 30 percent voter support, according to the STEM polling agency. His main rival –another former prime minister- Miloš Zeman is in second place with 16.5 percent support and Senator Jiří Diensbier, the official candidate of the Social Democratic Party, is third with 13.9 percent support. The surge in support for Mr. Fisher is widely ascribed to the fact that economist Jan Švejnar recently announced his decision not to run for president resulting in a strong shift of support for the former caretaker prime minister.
Civic Democrat MP Jan Florian has slammed Prime Minister Petr Nečas for trying to lay the blame for his party’s defeat in the weekend elections squarely on the regions. Mr. Florian said the regions had worked hard for a good showing but had born the brunt of public discontent with the policy of the Civic Democratic Party’s leadership. He said the Civic Democrats were reaping the fruits of their policy in government: abandoning the party’s election programme and disregarding promises made to voters. MP Jan Florian is one of the six Civic Democrat rebels who are holding out against government-proposed tax hikes.
The Šumava National Park is laying off employees after getting lower funding from the Environment Ministry. The park’s management said it had been forced to sack thirty people in order to be able to operate on a reduced budget next year. Due to austerity measures the ministry has slashed 11 million crowns from its budget, bringing the overall sum down to 319 million crowns in 2013. The National Park said it would be effecting other cost costing measures such as selling 25 percent of its car-park.
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