Dissolution of lower house would open the door to provisional legislation

Lower house of Czech Parliament, photo: CTK

The dissolution of the lower house of Parliament would leave the country without a Chamber of Deputies for the first time in its modern history. Under the Constitution this would mean a shift of power to the country’s caretaker government, the Senate and the president who would jointly have the right to pass provisional legislation in running the country.

Lower house of Czech Parliament,  photo: CTK
The functioning of the state following the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament is not something that the Czech Republic has previous experience with and Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok and the head of the Senate Milan Štěch have already met to discuss how the country would be run under such circumstances. This would require close cooperation between the country’s caretaker government and the Senate. The government alone would have the right to put forward so-called provisional laws which would need to win approval by the Senate and be signed into law by the president. Constitutional lawyer Jiří Hřebejk explains:

“Provisional laws have the same weight as legislation approved by both chambers. In other words they may amend or scrap existing legislation, or enforce new rules in any given field. There is just one stipulation: provisional legislation must be a matter of urgency. This may naturally be a question of interpretation, but in putting forward such laws the caretaker government must provide the Senate with convincing arguments that the matter cannot be put off.”

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Provisional laws would be debated by the Senate and, assuming they win approval, sent on to the president. The caretaker prime minister, Jiří Rusnok, has already indicated that he plans to use this mechanism, sparking fears regarding the extent of changes that could be effected even within a relatively short period of time and the influence President Miloš Zeman could have on this decision-making process. The Rusnok government is seen as President Zeman’s puppet administration and the Social Democrat-dominated Senate is known to have good ties with the head of state. Lawyer Jiří Hřebejk notes that the constitution includes a safety-clause for provisional laws.

“Any provisional laws approved must be confirmed by the new Chamber of Deputies at its first session. Those that fail to win approval will simply lose their validity. In other words, provisional laws would only apply for the given interim period and carry the same weight as any other law, but unless they win approval from the new lower house they will in effect be scrapped.”

Jiří Rusnok,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The Rusnok caretaker government, which failed to win its vote of confidence in the lower house, has in the past few weeks proved eager to effect change. Already its ministers have named four provisional laws they would put to the Senate – a proposal to abolish a law that would scrap tax on dividends, which they fear would strip the state budget of billions of crowns, a law reducing the fee for a day’s stay in hospital from 100 to 60 crowns, a law on professional soldiers and a law amending the process of naming university professors. The proposals have elicited plenty of criticism and in the last case the Senate itself has said such a law fails to meet the required criterion of “urgency”. On the other hand, the law on hospital fees might pass muster. The existing law on a 100 crown payment was invalidated by the Constitutional Court and unless an new law comes into effect soon patients would stop paying fees altogether which would reportedly have a devastating effect on the finances of medical institutions. The possibility of these and other provisional laws being enforced has raised concern particularly among right-wing politicians, with TOP 09 deputy chair Miroslav Kalousek saying that provisional laws should be as rarely applied as is a state of legislative emergency.