Czech elections: Voters poised to hand victory to Left

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THE Czech Communist party could get its hands on power for the first time since being swept away by the 1989 Velvet Revolution, with voters poised to hand victory to the Left in a general election.

Opinion polls ahead of the first day of voting today give the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia around 16 per cent of the vote, placing it second to the left-wing Social Democrats, and in a powerful position when it comes to forming the next government.

With no party looking set to gain an outright majority and votes spread across a multitude of little parties, the Social Democrats might invite the Communists into a coalition, or, at the very least, strike a deal to get the far-left’s support in parliament.

Bohuslav Sobotka, the Social Democrat leader, has already said his party is prepared to “negotiate” with the Communists, and speculation of a post-election deal between the two flourished after it emerged they had held a secret meeting just days before the start of the election.

“If we create a minority government then the Communist Party in an option,” said Mr Sobotka, when pressed about the meeting.

Unlike all other Communist parties in central Europe toppled by the 1989 revolutions, the Czech party has retained the word “Communist” in its name, the red star still appears on its logo and the party makes no secret of its roots in the old Czechoslovak Communist Party. Although many of their economic policies have now much in common with the Social Democrats, the party’s website says their programme is based on “Marxist theory”.

The prospect of the Communists gaining a share in power over a country they once ruled with dictatorial zeal for 40 years has alarmed many in the Czech Republic.

David Cerny, a famous and controversial Czech artist, made his feelings clear about the possible return of the Communists. The artist floated a giant purple hand down the River Vltava in Prague, with its middle finger raised at city’s castle, the seat of Milos Zeman, the Czech president who Mr Cerny accuses of aiding the Communists.

“This is to remind people that communism wasn’t a golden age as some still believe,” he said.

In another act of protest, right-wing activists hung mannequins by the neck from bridges and lamp-posts, in a graphic reminder of the bloody days when the Communist Party executed its opponents.

But the complaining has failed to mask the fact that the Communists enjoy widespread popularity.

The party has prospered from growing dissatisfaction with the economy which has struggled to gain any real momentum in recent years while living standards for many have declined, and austerity measures have met with deep-seated opposition.

All this has fuelled the popularity of those offering an alternative.

“It is clear the neo-liberal model is broken and exhausted,” said Vojtech Filip, the Communist Party leader, in an interview with the Czech press. “You have to turn to another model that will stimulate the economy.”

The Communists’ 24-years in opposition has also meant they have avoided the corruption scandals that have poisoned much of Czech politics for years. Czech have become weary with a stream of stories of greed and graft surrounding their national leaders, and want a change.