Saturday was a wonderful day as we in the Czech Republic watched the polls close and the returns come in on the presidential election. Our adopted country chose a good person, a true leader, over a self-serving corrupt corporatist as their new head of state. That was fabulous, but the way the election unfolded reminds me of how backward the USA is in its politics and elections.
Item one: it was a Saturday. Yes, the Czech Republic has Saturday voting. Not just one day of voting either—two days, Friday and Saturday. The number of polling stations was also impressive. Most people had their place to vote within two kilometers of their home address. The Czech government actually wants people to vote and makes the effort to let them vote. It’s not like in the US ehere government seems to be more interested in preventing voting access. The difference shows when comparing the voter turnout numbers in both countries: 70.3% in the Czech Republic versus 62.8% in the US. Worth noting is that that 70.3% was for a vote where only the presidency was at stake, no lower offices.
Item Two: the vote was counted amazingly quickly and efficiently. All votes were counted, and results reported within three hours. And all paper ballots, a fully transparent electoral process.
Item Three: This was the second round of the presidential election. In Europe, unlike in the US, the electoral process isn’t designed to exclude third party candidates. Unlike the American “first past the post” system present in almost all states, the Czech Republic election rules state that if no one candidate receives over 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff between the two top candidates. That system empowers candidates and parties beyond one or two large parties to become involved in the electoral process. It also empowers voters to support a smaller party or a more diverse candidate because it removes the need to cast a vote only to block “that candidate” from winning simply because they can muster a plurality. More choice, more representation, greater involvement. It’s a shame the US doesn’t have more open elections.
Item Four: Yes, the result. Petr Pavel defeated Andrej Babiš 58% to 42%. Pavel is not a politician. He is a former general and was Chair of the NATO Military Committee. Yes, he is ex-military, but a social progressive with economic policies inspired by Scandinavian nations. In contrast, Babiš is a billionaire businessman, former agent of the Soviet dictatorship, who has been accused of fraudulent business activities and multiple conflicts of interest as a politician. Babiš was formerly prime minister, as head of an anti-immigrant, hard-right Eurosceptic party. That he received 42% of the vote for president shows the Czech Republic is far from perfect, but that such a candidate lost shows that its electorate is more enlightened than the US electorate.