The European elections have opened up in Ireland and for the first day in the Czech Republic.
[Edit: I'll add in a small "contents" for this post, considering it's size].
- Czech Republic.
- Northern Ireland.
In Ireland, where there are local as well as European elections (and 2 by-elections), turnout is looking to be pretty healthy on early indications. Politically, I don't think there's much to add since Wednesday/Thursday and on the news I've commented on before then.
It still looks like 2-3 seats at the most will change hands, with Dublin the closest battle ground - Eoin Ryan (FF/ELDR), Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin/GUE-NGL)and Joe Higgins (Socialist Party/Non-Aligned) have been very close in the polls. It will be interesting to see if the interventions by politicians on possible alliances and how to transfer will have much effect on the third seat race there.
The Irish Independent has an article on 12 key local election battlegrounds, if you are interested.
[[The news has been focused to a certain extent on a Leaving Certificate (A-Level) story, where the English 2 paper was accidentally opened a day early, resulting in the exam being rescheduled for 9.30am on Saturday. Then there was an issue over Jewish students who didn't want to sit the test on the Sabbath (they will now be in isolation in a house over the Sabbath so they can take the test later). The Leaving Cert is always a big story in the Irish media each year with stories on exam pressure, etc. (It is the Isle of Saints and Scholars, after all).]]
In the Czech Republic, polls opened today (they will be open tomorrow as well). Here's some summary and news:
The two main parties are of course the ODS (President Klaus' old party and Topolanek's party) from which Topolanek's government was drawn until its collapse. It will form a new group with the UK Conservatives (which could be called the "European Conservatives"). Topolanek isn't exactly Lisbon-friendly, and notably described Obama's economic policy as a "road to hell".
The PES aligned CSSD played a major role in bringing down the government in the first place, which may not have done their image any good with the electorate as the fall of a Czech government during the Czech presidency of the European Council damaged the perceptions of the Czech Republic in the rest of the EU. The CSSD's leader has been the target of an egging campaign recently (see the third story here). I can't see an enthusiastic turnout for his party or indeed overall.
(There's a chance that tensions between the ODS and CSSD could spill over into a legal battle).
The EPP aligned KDU-CSL has just chosen a new leader to improve its image and to improve its electability. The new chairman, Svoboda, signals a possible shift to the left in the centrist party. This party is a minor one however, so I doubt the EPP can expect to gain much here.
President Klaus has had a sharp exchange with French Foreign Minister Koucher since the Czech President declared that the EP elections are "unnecessary".
Post-communist president Havel has spoken out against the smear tactics in the election campaigning (fourth story here). From the news I've read and heard, I'm not expecting European issues to feature much at all, and I'd say the confidence in politicians will be very low as (some) voters go to the polls.
Turnout is not expected to be high, as interest in European issues in the Czech Republic seem to be quite low. European issues just don't seem to be being made visible and clear to voters in this campaign.
In the UK, local election results are mostly in (as of writing, 30 out of 34 councils have been declared), and they may indicate the shape of the European results (though the European elections may have a higher protest vote against the main parties).
Local Council Seats [Change in square brackets]:
Labour - 159 [+250]
Conservatives - 1330 [+217]
LibDems - 439 [-8]
Others - 159 [+34]
For more detail, see the BBC's website here.
A clear swing to the Conservatives in terms of seats important to note that the LibDems are the only main party to increase their share of the vote, while the Conservative share has fallen more than any other party - though it still leads the LibDems by about 10%. I wonder if who will benefit the most in the European elections - LibDems, Conservatives or UKIP? And if the Greens will make respectable gains.
Government-wise, trouble over the resignation of several cabinet ministers has forced a messy, if limited, reshuffle. Brown is in a weakened, but more secure position now. For some strange reason, Sir Alan Sugar will get a ministry (and a peerage). From a EU point of view, Europe Minister Caroline Flint, who resigned, has been replaced by Glenys Kinnock. Caroline Flint is supposed to have resigned over not being promoted - I wouldn't say that her performance as Europe Minister has been particularly deserving of a promotion however. Not that the cabinet is exactly bursting with talent...
In Northern Ireland the turnout is guesstimated at 45% by BBC Newline, with the unionist candidates seemingly close together - predicted to be within 19-13% of each other. Mick Fealty over at Slugger O'Toole has flagged up some estimations, and there's some O'Toole analysis here. Transfers will be everything, and the turnout in different sections of society could be key to the transfer trends.