Constitutional changes rejected

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A joint effort by the two strongest political parties to push through controversial constitutional amendments, which would have curbed the President's powers and increase their own power on the Czech political scene has failed. On Thursday the package of proposed changes was swept off the table by senators of the Four Party Coalition and the Communists, smaller parties whose influence in politics would have been marginalised by the proposed legislation. Daniela Lazarova has the story.

Vaclav Zak, editor in chief of the political bi-monthly Listy, thinks this is a pity, since he believes the proposed changes would have simplified post-election efforts to form a Cabinet.

Vaclav Zak: The necessity to have such unnatural deals would disappear, since following an election there would be a clear majority that could be formed by parties with compatible political programmes that would be reasonable for the future and for a transparent political scene in the Czech Republic.

Radio Prague: What about the President's role in this - do you think that the Czech Republic is ready for a president who would be little more than a figurehead?

VZ: The main task of the President is to be a non-partisan figure in the constitutional arrangement. Unfortunately, on many occasions President Havel tried to influence the decision of not very reasonable voters. And he destabilized the situation on the Czech political scene. Both these party leaders, Civic Democrat and Social Democrat, have experienced situations in which the president tried to make things difficult for them, so they tried to create a more predictable political environment. I would say that this was reasonable and I would say that Czechs would have accepted it.

But political commentator Jiri Pehe has a different view on the matter :

Jiri Pehe: We need a president who can stand up to political parties, because we have seen that political parties in the Czech Republic - and in fact in any young democracy - are very much intent on controlling institutions that should remain independent. There is a need for an institution such as a strong president, who can stand up to political parties and can actually off-set those pressures.

RP: It is sometimes very difficult to set up a cabinet. One commentator suggested that the proposed change of legislation would have alleviated those problems. Would you agree with that?

JP: I don't think so, because what these constitutional amendments would have done was basically just develop a new way of appointing the government. That means the president would have simply had to appoint the leader of the victorious party as prime minister, but that is not necessarily the best way to form a stable government. Let us envisage a situation where the election would be won by the Communists. If the president had to appoint the leader of the Communist Party to put together a government, it would be just a waste of time because the Communists would not be able to form a coalition, and we would lose valuable months trying to put together a government headed by the Communist Party, so I think that it makes a lot of sense that the president has some leeway in appointing the prime minister.