PRAGUE – The Czech Communists won an extra 1,300 seats in the Nov. 1 elections to village, town and city councils, party vice-chair Zuzka Rujbrova announced last week. She said the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (CPBM) was one of the few parliamentary parties to improve its position and it had also ‘significantly strengthened its position’ in the biggest towns. The right-wing Christian Democrats and Freedom Union, the Social Democrats’ government coalition partners, suffered heavy losses. At stake overall in the elections, which were contested on a party-list system of proportional representation, were 62,000 seats.

The CPBM was defending over 6,200 seats it won at the 1998 local elections. Most seats, especially in the villages and smaller towns, were as usual won by candidates standing as independents, a good number of whom are CPBM supporters and sympathizers or people willing to work with the party.

The CPBM’s most important gains were in the Czech Republic’s 16 biggest towns, where it increased its 1998 vote by 131,314 votes on a lower poll (down from 45 percent in 1998 to 43.4 percent). It won 131 seats in the cities, a net gain of 29, reflecting an almost 7 percent increase in its share of the poll to 16.6 percent. The Communists did particularly well in the industrial cities of North Bohemia, North Moravia and Silesia, where workers, their families and communities have been hit hardest by unemployment since the post-1989 return to capitalism.

The Communists also held all of their eight seats on the old Prague City Council in the first elections to Prague’s new regional council, but only one of their three seats in the Senate (the Czech parliament’s upper house). Eduard Matykiewicz won the Karvina constituency in the second round over a right-wing candidate, polling 51.8 percent of the votes. Czech Communist leader Miroslav Grebenicek criticised the first-past-the-post system used in the Senate elections: ‘Some of the four other Communist candidates who got through to the second round and lost in the run-off got more votes than right-wing candidates winning in the second round.’

Zuzka Rujbrova welcomed the fact that the Communist and Social Democrat votes in the second round had generally increased as a result of supporters of both parties voting for the other party’s candidates against right-wing candidates. In the Louny seat, for example, the Communist candidate’s first round vote of 5,795 rose to 15,234 in the second round. A higher turnout in the second round (up from 21.6 percent in the 1st round to 32.6percent) was another factor. The 81 Senators and the 150-member Chamber of Deputies will hold a joint meeting on Jan. 15 next year to elect President Vaclav Havel’s successor.

Ken Biggs is editor of Postmark Prague and can be reached at pww@pww.org

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