PRAGUE, Czech Republic - After a quarter century in the political wilderness, the unreformed Communist Party has a real chance of regaining a measure of political power for the first time since the Velvet Revolution ended its 40-year dictatorship in 1989.
Still widely reviled by many here, the party may nevertheless do well in parliamentary elections on Friday and Saturday thanks to voters' deep disenchantment with the established political parties.
Their hostility has been fed by a seemingly endless succession of corruption scandals taking place while the economy sputters.
The Communists are the only political mainstay here not tarnished by corruption scandals in the last 25 years, largely by virtue of their political isolation.
Most polls now show them winning 12 to 20 percent of the vote, which could propel them to a second or third-place finish in a crowded political field. The most likely scenario projects the Communist Party supporting a minority government of the Czech Social Democratic Party, the CSSD.
Although the Social Democrats are widely expected to win, their margin of victory is uncertain. Without an outright majority, they'll need the support of at least one other group or to form a coalition government.
Even if they don't join a coalition with the CSSD, the Communists may gain key posts on parliamentary committees, including parliamentary chairman as well as some ambassadorships and high court appointments, according to journalist Jindrich Sidlo, who covers politics for Hospodarske noviny, the country's leading business newspaper.
"I understand people who hate the Communists because they were harmed by them, but they aren't dangerous anymore," he says. "They don't want to send people to jail. They love freedom ... Maybe if we allow them to be partly responsible, it can help to unblock the whole political situation."
The CSSD is a mainstream social democratic party similar to its Western European counterparts, meaning it would guarantee the country would remain fully committed to its memberships in the European Union and NATO, Sidlo adds.
Nevertheless, cutout figurines were found hanging from bridges in Prague and several other cities on Tuesday adorned with the slogan: "Went against the Communists."
Instability is a hallmark of Czech politics: Only two governments in the post-communist era have succeeded in serving out their four-year mandates, the last one more than a decade ago.
One reason is that most governing coalitions have ruled with razor-thin majorities that made them vulnerable to collapse. That pattern may now be working to the Communists' advantage.
The conventional wisdom among their critics 20 years ago was that if everyone just ignored them, the party would simply die out in a generation along with its predominantly elderly supporters.