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The Czech Elections: Communists in Limbo

Prague, May 24 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) is campaigning on the slogan "Join the rest of the European movement."

This is a direct reference to the political left turn taken by a number of western European countries as well as those in the former Eastern Bloc.

Greece has had a socialist government for years, while Italy this year turned to socialists and communists as well. Great Britain is also looking to the left-wing Labor party as an alternative to years of right-wing Tory rule.

In Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania former communists have been returned to power by a public made uneasy by rapid social and economic reforms. Many people clearly long for the semblance of security offered by the communists in the past.

Jan Hartl, director of the public opinion research firm STEM (Centre for Empirical Research), said there is almost no chance of a return to the communism in the Czech Republic.

"It's an indisputable fact that for the majority of the residents the current government is better. They don't find much good to say about the previous (pre-1989) governments."

But he said his company's findings also show that for about a third of the population the former communist governments were better, or the same, as the current government.

Most of the communist supporters, according to STEM, are rural, older, less-educated voters, while those in urban areas, who are college-educated and younger, tend to be the biggest backers of the current coalition's market-oriented policies.

Hartl said the communists have held steady support of between seven and nine percent of the decided voters. KSCM is represented by 11 deputies in the 200-seat Czech Parliament. The lesser-known SCK, whose main platform is reunification of Czechoslovakia, generally does not register in opinion polling and has no representation in Parliament.

SCK also failed to pay a 200,000 crown (7,200 dollars) election deposits so it won't be on the ballot.

SCK leader Miroslav Stepan was quoted as saying his party's support in rural areas is growing and, he said, people have adopted the slogan "if I can't vote for number nine (which was to be the party's number on the election ballot) I won't vote at all."

Stepan also said his party believes "the road to prosperity for the majority in the Czech Republic, does not lead through parliament." He stopped short of providing further details.

Hartl said all indications are that Czech voters will again reject the communist philosophy in the May 31/June 1 elections. But he admits pre-election polling results could be swayed by a stronger-than-expected communist showing.

Hartl said generally 20 to 25 percent of the population refuses to participate in any kind of polling. He said if those who refuse to be polled vote in the same proportions as the rest of the population, there won't be any effects on the pre-election poll results.

But Hartl admits a larger-than-expected number may be communist supporters who refuse to be polled because they don't want to admit their political leanings. "If that's the case, than that could affect our numbers."