Castle scandals put spotlight on presidential powers

Vratislav Mynář

President Zeman’s team are constantly in the news right now. First it was reported that his head of office, Vratislav Mynář, was behind the shredding of classified documents. Now, following the widely condemned issuing of a presidential pardon, there are reports that Mynář travelled abroad on official business without the government’s knowledge. I discussed the situation with political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“I think that unfortunately a small group of people around President Miloš Zeman has privatised the Office of the President and is using it for its own objectives, which are not always legal.

“Unfortunately we do not seem to have the tools right now to solve this situation, because the constitution gives the president some powers which make it possible for the president to protect thesepeople.”

In recent days we’ve had the issue of the shredding of documents at Prague Castle, the controversial pardon, and now this report about Mynář's secret flight to Doha. Which of these for you is the most serious wrongdoing, if indeed they are wrongdoings?

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Pavel Kozler,  Czech Radio

“The shredding of secret documents at a time when the president was weak and in hospital is, in my opinion, probably the most serious offence of all of those that we know off.

“Because we really don’t know why those documents were shredded.

“We don’t know whether chancellor Mynář did not see those documents, although he does not have security clearance.

“So this is probably the most serious of the various offences, because it possibly harms the security of the Czech Republic.”

There have been some calls to amend the Czech Constitution because of the situation regarding the president. Is that something that you would be in favour of?

“I think that a constitutional change that would amend the parts of the constitution concerning the president and his powers is long overdue.

“It is not only the possibility that the president can pardon people without any approval of the government, but also his behavior during various government crises: that is, appointing governments and ministers and so on.

“So obviously the constitution is not well written in that particular part and we should really think about changing it.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“We have a president who under the Czech Constitution is not responsible for his own actions – it is the government that is responsible for the president.

“So in general the president should not have powers which he can use on his own, without any approval from the prime minister or a member of the government.”

Do you feel there is much will to make that kind of change to the constitution?

“I’m afraid that right now there will again be a lot of criticism of the president’s actions, but in the end party politicians will not find enough consensus to change the constitution.

“That’s a pity, because I think that although it is generally a very good document it is weak particularly in those parts where it describes the powers of the president.

“I can actually testify to it from my own experience, because I saw as chief advisor to President Havel how the constitution is weak in this particular part and how we could have bypassed it and misused it, if we wanted to, in all kinds of ways.”