Fiala appointed PM – but what next on path to new government?

Petr Fiala

President Miloš Zeman appointed Petr Fiala prime minister on Sunday, seven weeks after general elections. Now the head of state says he will spent another fortnight meeting Mr. Fiala’s cabinet nominees – with a clash likely over the candidate for the foreign affairs portfolio. I discussed what happens next, as well as the protracted nature of the process, with political scientist, Jiří Pehe.

“I think that what President Zeman is trying to when he says that he wants to interview all the ministers, or candidates for ministers, is certainly not normal under the current circumstances.

“First, we all know that the country is in deep crisis and needs strong government as soon as possible.

“Second, this is not even a constitutional power of the president. That means that this is just a whim of President Zeman, who says he wants to talk to all the candidates.

“No-one can deny him this possibility, but at the same time this is not something that the constitution prescribes.

“The constitution simply says that the prime minister proposes the names for ministers and the president approves them.”

Some people are saying that the president is deliberately slowing this whole process. If he is, what could his aim possibly be?

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Czech Pirate Party/Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

“I think that President Zeman simply wants to show that he is still the most important player on the political chessboard, so to speak – that he shouldn’t be overlooked.

“So he has decided to play this political game that gives him a lot of visibility.

“It may be also his way of getting back at this current government coalition for its previous ideas to activate article 66 of the constitution, under which the president would be temporarily suspended, for health reasons.

“So it’s very difficult to see into Mr. Zeman’s head.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Fiala, he cannot be easily disciplined, because the constitution does not prescribe any time periods for his actions.

“And even if he, unconstitutionally, refuses to name one of the ministers, it may be extremely difficult for Mr. Fiala to force the president to go along and name the ministers that he wants to have in his government.”

Mr. Zeman has already said that there’s no way that he will appoint the new government’s candidate for foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, and says he won’t even explain why. The new government are saying they won’t back down. What do you think will happen in this case at the end of the day?

“If it comes to this kind of conflict in which the president refuses to name one of the ministers, most likely the minister of foreign affairs, and the government, or Mr. Fiala, insists on this name, then of course Mr. Fiala has a chance to turn to the Constitutional Court and ask the court to decide whether the president has the right to do so.

“Unfortunately, if the Constitutional Court decides that the president has to name Mr. Lipavský, we don’t know what would happen if Zeman simply refuses to abide by the decision of the Constitutional Court.

Miloš Zeman | Photo: archive of Czech Radio

“Under normal circumstances, the government of Mr. Fiala could file a constitutional suit, which basically means starting impeachment proceedings.

“But because those proceedings have to be concluded with decisions of both houses, the Senate and the lower house, and they have to support this process with constitutional majorities [at least three-fifths of votes], it may not go anywhere.

“Because the new government does not have a constitutional majority in the lower house and they would have to convince Mr. Babiš and Mr. Okamura to go along.

“So this could cause a real impasse and in the end we may see that this coalition goes back to what they should have done, in my opinion, already; that is to activate article 66, saying that Mr. Zeman is maybe not well enough to be in charge of this process.”

Obviously you haven’t got a crystal ball, but when do you think is the likeliest date we will finally see a new Czech government in place?

“I think there’s still a chance that this will happen by mid-December, but it will happen only under two conditions.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Jana Trpišovská,  Czech Radio

“One is that Mr. Fiala will make a concession and he will say that for a period of time he agrees to withdraw the nomination of Mr. Lipavský and propose to the president that someone else, or he himself, would take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a period of time.

“That would probably lead to a speedy naming of the whole government and Fiala could of course turn to the Constitutional Court later, if he again proposes the name of Lipavský to the president – but then of course the government would be already in place.

“And the second possibility – not very likely in my opinion – is that the president will simply decide that despite his opposition to Lipavský he will name the whole government, with Lipavský in the line-up.

“But since he has been very much against pressure being put on him in the past, I think that this is very unlikely to happen.”