Skip to comments.Czechs, Irish vote as EU polls sweep on
Posted on 06/11/2004 11:15:28 PM PDT by RWR8189
Czech and Irish voters went to the polls on the second day of European Parliament elections, clouded by fears of a rise in the eurosceptic vote as the enlarged EU faces major decisions about its future.
The Czech Republic was the first of 10 mostly ex-communist European Union newcomer states to begin voting in the elections, which are to climax Sunday when most states in the newly-expanded bloc will go to the polls amid fears of a low voter turn-out.
The elections, coming six weeks after the EU's landmark May 1 enlargement, kicked off on Thursday in the Netherlands and Britain -- where provisional results suggested an embarrassing setback for the ruling Labour party.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern -- whose country currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency -- urged voters to turn out en masse and defy opinion poll forecasts of a record low participation.
"Democracy is not a spectator sport... Voting is a responsibility of citizenship," he said.
Early signs of turnout in Ireland at least were tentatively encouraging. By midday a ruling party spokeswoman said voting had gotten off to a brisk start, particularly in the capital.
In the Czech ballots, signs were not so encouraging for europhiles: polls suggested a turnout of between 30-40 percent, while the country looks set to provide one of several eurosceptic surges in the elections.
Latest surveys suggest the main Czech opposition party, the eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS) could come top with up to 35 percent, far ahead of the governing Social Democrats.
But Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla brushed off the forecasts, insisting a poor performance for his party would not weaken the cabinet.
The EU elections are due to be held in Italy, Latvia and Malta on Saturday, followed by the other 18 EU member states on Sunday. Results are expected late Sunday.
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour party received a worse-than-expected drubbing in local council elections in England and Wales, which were held Thursday along with the vote for the European Parliament.
But Blair, who could take consolation in the re-election of London's mayor Ken Livingstone under the Labour banner, vowed to stay the course despite his decision to intervene in Iraq having been deeply unpopular with voters.
"I think it's a question of holding our nerve and seeing it through, and realising that, yes, Iraq has been an immensely difficult decision," said Blair, who is likely to call a general election next year.
Labour lost more than 450 council seats, and the BBC said that, on the basis of voting in 300 key wards, it projected an equivalent national vote of 38 percent for the main opposition Conservatives, 30 percent for the Liberal Democrats -- and just 26 percent for Labour.
Voting in the Netherlands saw relatively good news on the turnout front, with some 39 percent of voters casting their ballots, well up on the 29.9 percent in the last elections in 1999.
But the Dutch polls were also shrouded in controversy after authorities there defied a threat of legal action by the European Commission for publishing results before polls were over in all 25 member states.
The results showed the Netherlands' ruling Christian Democrat (CDA) to have won by a wafer-thin margin.
The EU assembly, the world's only multi-national legislature, is hobbled by the widespread public perception that it is a debating chamber with little effective power.
Surveys suggest the centre-right bloc will return as the biggest faction in the new parliament, followed by an alliance of centre-left parties, but analysts say the great unknown will be the influence of eurosceptic parties.
In Britain all eyes are on the fiercely anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), but other countries, notably EU newcomer heavyweight Poland, are also expected to see surges by eurosceptics.
Fears of a record low turnout prompted Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to urge voters to turn out in force this weekend, describing the elections as "a test of our European responsibility".
Poland has been in a state of political limbo since joining the European Union and the EU polls are seen as a test for political parties before an early general election, expected to be held in August.
Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos also made a last-minute appeal to voters, saying the election would steer the future of the EU and Greece's role within it.
Turnout in EU elections has declined at five-year intervals ever since the parliament, which meets mainly in the French city of Strasbourg, was first elected by universal suffrage in 1979. At the 1999 election, it dropped to 49.8 percent, with voter apathy strongest among the British and Dutch.
Latest forecasts for this weekend's polls suggest turnout could just make it above the psychologically-important 50 percent mark.
Everyone should check out the BBC coverage of the election, it's going to absolutely rock the Blair cabinet, which could cause problems for us in Iraq, before the June 2006 UN brokered pullout date.
Isn't this the election the globalists in European governments promised to keep having until they got the result they wanted?
What kind of idiot would say that Livingstone's re-election is a boost for Blair?
or alternatively "brightened by hopes of a rise in the eurosceptic vote"