New law in place to facilitate early elections

The Constitutional Court, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic is a step closer to resolving its drawn-out crisis, after President Klaus signed into force a constitutional amendment facilitating the way to early elections. With the new law in effect, the Chamber of Deputies is expected to approve its own dissolution on Tuesday after which President Klaus should announce a new date for early general elections - November 6 and 7.

The Constitutional Court, photo: CTK
Ever since a decision by the Constitutional Court put the early October general elections in jeopardy, politicians have moved with unprecedented speed and unity to find a way out of this crisis. The constitutional amendment which opens the way for early elections by allowing the lower house of Parliament to dissolve itself is now in place and there is every reason to believe that the chamber will go thorough the motions and do so on Tuesday.

The only hurdle that could arise is that between now and then Miloš Melčák, the deputy who started this crisis by defending his right to serve a full four year term, or anyone else for that matter, could once again challenge the new law in court on the grounds that it is a one-off change tailored to suit politicians’ immediate needs and tampers with the very foundation of the existing constitutional set-up. If the law is challenged, elections would be postponed indefinitely and would most likely take place as originally planned in June of 2010.

Jan Fischer, photo: CTK
Such a move would prove a serious set-back at a time when the country badly needs a strong government and the non-partisan cabinet of Prime Minister Jan Fischer is unable to make any serious decisions. Primarily the country needs a budget for 2010 and cuts in spending that would rein-in a looming budget deficit of unprecedented proportions. If elections take place in early November then there’s a fair chance this could be achieved. If not, the country would run on a provisional budget with a projected deficit of 230 billion crowns and analysts predict that the later cost-cutting measures are taken, the tougher they will have to be. At present the economic crisis has reportedly set the country back by two years, if a strong government is not in place soon its impact could be far worse.

Miloš Melčák, photo: CTK
It is primarily this vision that has united politicians and led them to make this constitutional change in great haste. At the same time it is the urgency – and the need to resolve a specific situation - that is leaving them open to criticism from some constitutional experts. Political analysts had long advised such a change in times of greater political stability but there was never enough political consensus for it in the past. Now politicians are paying a high price for failing to pass the amendment sooner.

If the new law goes unchallenged then the way to early elections in November will have been cleared and they will be much easier to hold in the future, should the need arise. On the other hand, a last-minute complaint to the Constitutional Court could trigger a drawn-out crisis with far reaching implications – both economic and legal.