Lawmakers to discuss legislation to curb presidential powers

Miloš Zeman, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: archive of Czech Government

Czech lawmakers are due to begin debating a government draft bill proposing to curb the powers of the country’s head-of-state. Many argue the need to redefine the president’s role became an issue after the country opted for direct presidential elections, which gave the new head-of-state arguably more leverage in influencing key decision-making. Politicians both in government and in the opposition would like to see that changed.

Miloš Zeman,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: archive of Czech Government
The parties in government, most notably the Social Democrats, have long stated that changes limiting the powers of the Czech head-of-state are not a reaction to the man currently at Prague Castle. But there are others, most notably from the centre-right opposition, eager to limit his influence were he to win a second term. Critics of the president have charged that from day one Mr Zeman has tried to maximise his power more than either of his post-1989 predecessors, putting himself front-and-centre even though the country has a parliamentary – and not a presidential – system.

Cases in point? His handpicking a previous interim government, pushing through preferred candidates for ambassadorial posts, and taking the longest time on record in naming the current government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. The different parties in Parliament have varying priorities, but there is general agreement that more emphasis should be made on the system in place. Social Democrat Jeroným Tejc:

“The Parliamentary system of governance should be untouched.”

Concretely, parties will discuss a whole array of issues, including the naming of judges, the naming of candidates to the central bank, outlining a period by which, following coalition agreements, new governments should be named, limiting the carrying over of mandates by MPs in the lower house as well as issues President Miloš Zeman himself has raised: the naming of university professors, declaring amnesties or granting pardons.

Jiří Ovčáček | Photo: Czech Television
The shopping list is long – whether agreement can be found between parties on opposite sides of the political spectrum remains a question. Meanwhile, lawmakers insist that any changes will only come into effect after the current presidential term, with no effect on Mr Zeman (unless, presumably, he is re-elected). All the same, the proposal has won few supporters at Prague Castle. The president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček said this:

“It is illogical for a head-of-state, who is elected directly by the public in free elections, to have weaker powers than a president elected by Parliament.”

According to Czech TV, MPs in the lower house will try to hammer out a consensus by March.