After a grueling week-long filibuster in the lower house, the centre-right coalition government on Sunday pushed a package of key reform bills through Parliament, overturning a Senate veto, in what has been a long and fierce battle with the opposition. The bills which will launch an overhaul of the pension, health care and welfare systems, among others, still need to be signed by the president and are expected to take effect at the start of next year.
A round of hearty applause from the coalition benches ended a week of unprecedented filibustering that kept the lower house in almost permanent session for six days straight. Although the ruling coalition had a comfortable majority for its planned reforms the opposition Social Democrats and Communists used every conceivable tactic to prevent the inevitable. When their arsenal was finally exhausted it took the lower house a mere 35 minutes to pass the package of key reforms. Prime Minister Petr Nečas :
“This victory is the result of a fierce, six-day battle in the lower house with obstruction tactics such as Parliament has never before witnessed in the country’s democratic history; obstruction tactics which I must say were unreasonable and excessive. “
In order to break the endless circle of filibustering which could have gone on for much longer the coalition parties themselves selected a highly unorthodox tactic –they linked debate on the fourteen bills into one – a move that was questioned by lawyers and slammed by the opposition as unfair and in violation of procedural rules. Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka said his party would consider filing a complaint about it to the Constitutional Court.
“I believe we should only address the Constitutional court when we have strong legal arguments for a complaint and I do not want to make an emotional decision based on the events of the past six-seven days in the lower house. We will consult lawyers and see if there is any way of getting the approved reforms rescinded.”
For their part, coalition MPs are considering proposing a change to procedural rules which would in future preclude filibustering. They say that a model for change could be found in Germany, where the time allowed to parties for speeches would be derived from their number of seats in Parliament.
Whether or not this is done, the battle is over and according to the prime minister it has left the governing coalition strengthened and united. If all goes according to plan the respective bills will launch an overhaul of the publicly funded pension system by introducing a private pension scheme and a higher retirement age, make Czechs take on more financial responsibility for the health care they receive, affect tax changes and significantly tighten the rules on welfare in a bid that is expected to bring the country’s public finance deficit under control.