Europe

Czech Communists eye share of power in next vote

PRAGUE (AP) — Upcoming parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic could see a result some consider a threat to democracy: a government backed by the hardline Communist Party.

The early elections are to be held over two days starting Friday. They follow the collapse of the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Necas, which, already under pressure for its austerity measures, finally fell apart in a spectacular swirl of allegations involving corruption and marital infidelity.

Polls suggest that voters, sick of political shenanigans and economic hardships linked to the austerity measures, will give the strongest support to the Social Democrats. That party has ruled out a formal coalition with the communists, who haven't had power since the 1989 Velvet Revolution toppled 40 years of their often-bloody rule and who have survived several attempts at being banned in the 24 years since.

But Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka has suggested forming a minority government that has the tacit support of the Communist Party, a plan that drew support from Czech President Milos Zeman — and angered many others in this nation of 10.5 million.

In recent days, Czech artist David Cerny, a fervent anti-communist, floated a huge statue of a purple hand making an obscene gesture on Prague's main river and in view of the presidency. Activists also have put on display in public places of four Czech cities, including Prague, figures of hanged people to symbolize the victims of communism.

"A government supported by the Communist Party is the most dangerous outcome of the election," said Jaromir Stetina, a member of the Parliament's upper house. Unlike many other communist parties that have joined the left-wing mainstream, the Czech party has maintained its hardline stance. It is vehemently opposed to NATO and maintains friendly ties with the ruling communists in Cuba, China and North Korea.

The Communist Party's base is composed primarily of supporters of the government during the communist-era, which killed more than 240 political prisoners while letting thousands of other opponents die in prisons. The party is also able to attract voters by criticizing mistakes made by governments during the transition to democracy.

The Communist Party regularly gets more than 10 percent of the vote. In the Czech Republic, where it's nearly impossible for any party to get an outright majority, its tacit support could prove crucial for a Social Democrat-led government.

And the communists' brutal past hasn't gotten the same attention this time, partly because voters are so fed up with the recent scandals. The Necas government's fall came in June after eight people were arrested, including Necas' closest aide, with whom he was having an affair. She is suspected of bribery and ordering a military intelligence agency to spy on Necas' then estranged wife. Necas has since divorced his wife and married the aide.

"Unfortunately, following the terrible term of the Czech right, a communist threat doesn't look to be so serious for a majority of Czechs because many now think that even with the communists in power the situation can't be worse than under the government led by Petr Necas," political analyst Jiri Pehe told The Associated Press.

The Communist Party and the Social Democrats do agree on some issues. They want to keep alive the welfare state while planning to increase corporate and personal income taxes. They also want to abandon pension reforms adopted by the last government and at least modify legislation meant to return property and pay billions to religious groups in compensation for what the communist regime seized from them.

Communist Party Deputy Chairman Miroslava Vostra said Thursday that a left-wing government "is a chance" for the country to fix the previous government's mistakes.

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