Tens of thousands of Czechs will be voting for the first time in this weekend's general elections. To get a flavour of how some new voters see the elections - and Czech politics in general - I visited a secondary school in Vysocany in Prague 9 to meet four 18-year-old students, Veronika, Ilja, Tereza and Kristina.
Veronika: "Well for me the most important issues are social issues - that is the main area by which I choose what party I want to vote."
What particular social issues?
Veronika: "Definitely issues of tax, and the whole welfare system. Because I feel that's something that's really important to a lot of people I know."
Kristina: "At the moment I'm quite a lot interested in environmental issues, which I think most of the parties in our political spectrum don't put too much importance to. So I will decide according to what improvements in this area the parties offer."
And you Ilja?
Ilja: "Well for me the three most important issues are stable economic growth, frequently good co-operation with the EU and reforms of the educational system. At this point I would like to say that I'm quite disappointed that parties are only discussing education in terms of finance, but they don't talk about reforming the system in terms of educating the pupils, meaning that pupils will no longer be taught to absorb large amounts of facts but they will actually be taught to apply these facts. This is a problem in the Czech Republic that must be solved, and is necessary for keeping that stable economic growth."
Tereza: "Yeah, we always argue in class about politics and I personally watch the news and read magazines, and I am interested in politics."
Veronika: "Yes, I would definitely say that I do watch the news and read the newspapers, and especially with the upcoming elections political discussion between groups of friends has been very frequent, I would say."
Do you respect politicians? Do you respect the Czech Republic's political class, so to speak, or your leaders?
Kristina: "I do respect all politicians for actually going into politics and presenting themselves to the public in the way they do, even though I mostly don't agree with many of them."
Ilja: "Although I don't always agree all their proposals, ideas - and perhaps the intervention of some lobby groups in politics - I respect their work and I think that they are a necessary part of society."
What about their method of debate and the language they use, when you see, I don't know, the head of one of the biggest parties calling the head of another big party a liar on television? Tereza?
Tereza: "Maybe they should sometimes think about the words they use, because what they do is not always appropriate for television, for example the slap at that conference..."
That was when Mr Macek slapped David Rath, the health minister, on the back of the head recently...Another question is campaigning and the use of celebrities in campaigning by political parties. One of the best examples, I suppose, is you can now see Milan Baros the football player on billboards for one of the main right-wing parties. What do you think of that? Is it something which might influence voters, or influence yourselves perhaps?
Kristina: "Yeah, in some cases it may influence a lot of voters. But actually I personally see it as an exaggeration of election campaigns and I'm not in favour of celebrities taking part in the election campaigns of particular parties, because it seems there's always money behind it.
Veronika: "I think the political parties that have popular personalities on billboards and other media...actually it's quite sad, because these parties aren't presenting their programme, they aren't presenting their ideas, they are simply placing some celebrity there to substitute these ideas. Which I don't think is really the right thing to do in the campaign."
What about the smaller parties...would you vote for a party which, realistically speaking, doesn't have a chance of reaching the minimum five-percent threshold? Would you vote for a party that simply won't get in to parliament? Ilja?
Ilja: "No, I wouldn't. To me it seems a quite ineffective use of a vote. I would prefer a party which is experienced, of which we know something and that can propose something sensible or reasonable to us."
Veronika: "I would disagree with that, because I think that we should always vote for what we believe rather than vote tactically against someone, because we don't like them and we don't want them to win. So if none of the major parties really suit us then I think it makes sense to vote for a small party that doesn't get into parliament, to show that we support these ideas anyway."
Tereza: "I think at this time it's better to vote against what you are against rather than for what you are for...I don't actually agree with all the big parties but I'd rather vote a big party that has a chance to get into the parliament, to prevent a party which I really don't like from getting in. For me voting for a small party that doesn't get in is like throwing my vote away."
I won't ask you who you're going to vote for, but are you going to vote, and are you looking forward to it?
Kristina: "Yeah, I am going to vote, for sure, and I am quite a lot looking forward to it."
Veronika: "Definitely I am going to vote and I am looking forward to it, and I think it's definitely one of the rights in a democracy that I really want to use. And it's the right thing, to do so"
Ilja: "Definitely I will vote, I have already selected my party and I take my election ballots with me everywhere I go, so I'm excited."
Tereza: "I will vote as well, because for me it's a new experience and I want to have a say in what happens here."
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