Direct presidential election passed for further debate in lower house
A government proposal seeking direct, popular election of the Czech president made it through the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday – a significant success for an idea that lawmakers have dealt with eight times already. Nevertheless, while the coalition and the opposition may have reached a rare consensus for the time being, any such change to the constitution remains fraught by the fact that each party envisions very different conditions for popular elections, and many pundits and political scientists see the popular issue as a non-starter. Professor Jiří Pehe of New York University, for one, tells me the prospect of direct presidential elections is science fiction. I asked him why.
So you feel that their hearts aren’t really in it. What evidence of that is there?
A number of political scientists are opposed to the direct election of the president outright. Are you amongst them, and if so, why?
“Well, I’m of two minds. First, in general, I don’t think there is any real need to introduce the direct election of the president in the Czech Republic, which is sort of a classical parliamentary democracy, and we can see what kinds of problems we have even now, when the president is elected by the parliament. So in my opinion it would probably be better not only to have a president elected by the Parliament, but a president with fewer and more clearly defined powers. On the other hand, if you look at the way in which the president was elected, not only in 2008 but also in 2003, it was really a farce. It was clear that the Czech political parties are really unable to come up with compromises, they cannot come up with one or two candidates and then elect the president in the dignified manner that such an election would deserve. So what we really witnessed in 2003 was a farce in which Mr Klaus was elected after nine attempts, and the last time it was after three attempts, there were all kinds of behind-the-scenes deals and so on. So I think it would be better to have direct election of the president just to remove this kind of behaviour, and I think that would be the only reason to introduce such elections at the current time.”