Elections in doubt after shock Constitutional Court announcement

Political leaders have vowed to do everything possible to allow early elections to be held in October, after the Constitutional Court shocked the country by announcing they would be delayed. The court said it needed time to examine a complaint from a disgruntled MP – Miloš Melčák - who claimed his constitutional right to serve out his mandate in full had been curtailed by the shortened electoral term. Before the Court has ruled, it said, there can be no vote.

Constitutional Court
First a quick recap: the Topolanek cabinet collapsed in the spring after a vote of no-confidence. The parties couldn’t agree on forming a new majority government, so a caretaker cabinet was created to lead the country to early elections.

Dissolving parliament is notoriously difficult under the Czech constitution – it can only happen, essentially, after three successive attempts to form a government fail. So instead, the big parties clubbed together and passed a constitutional law bringing forward the current electoral term from June 2010 to October 2009.

So far so good.

However, an MP called Miloš Melčák filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court saying the law violated his constitutional right to serve out his full four-year term. On Tuesday, the Court announced it would hear his complaint, and until a verdict is reached (it took six months for them to rule on the EU's Lisbon Treaty), the elections cannot take place. And this in the middle of a full-blown election campaign.

Miloš Melčák seems at first to be something of a political non-entity. He’s about 70 years old, wears suits that are slightly too big for him, and hardly speaks in parliament. But his vote has, in fact, been crucial on many occasions.

Mr Melčák was re-elected as a Social Democrat MP in 2006, but betrayed his party in January 2007 and voted yes in a confidence vote for the centre-right Topolanek government; it was his vote, and that of a colleague, that allowed the Topolanek government to come into being. Shortly afterwards he received round-the-clock police protection – to protect him from what or whom, nobody knows.

President Václav Klaus
Paradoxically, he was also one of the four MPs whose vote helped bring down Mr Topolanek in March. He's also known to be close to the former prime minister, Miloš Zeman.

Now his constitutional complaint has thrown a big spanner into the works of Czech politics. The leaders of the six biggest parties plus President Vaclav Klaus have vowed to do everything they can to remove it, and ensure early elections are held as quickly as possible.

A working group has been set up to examine ways to change the constitution permanently to allow the rapid dissolution of parliament, so elections can be held on October 9th-10th or soon afterwards. Mr Melčák’s lawyer – himself a former political leader – has vowed to fight them every step of the way.