Opposition bid to remove Czech president from office for “breach of constitution” fails

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

A bid by opposition MPs to remove President Zeman from office failed on Thursday, as the lower house rejected a proposal to file a constitutional complain against the Czech head of state. The complaint, approved by the Senate, accused the president of repeatedly overstepping his powers in breach of the constitutional order and trying to create a semi-presidential system.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
The atmosphere in the lower house was stormy as MPs debated a constitutional complaint against President Miloš Zeman in view of having him removed from office. The proposed complaint, which emerged from the Senate, was based on the claim that the president is usurping powers that belong to the government and parliament. Senator Václav Láska, one of the co-authors of the proposal, said a clear definition of the president’s constitutional powers by the highest court in the land was important for the country’s future.

“At a time when the president is undisputedly destructing the constitutional order in the Czech Republic, and undermining the system of parliamentary democracy, it is important for the Constitutional Court to respond to this complaint by saying just how far the president’s powers stretch.”

The complaint was based on eight stated transgressions. These included attempts by the president to influence court cases, his refusal to appoint ministers proposed to him by the head of government, or for claiming that Czechoslovakia had produced the nerve agent used to poison an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

Although the proposal received majority support in the Senate, it was rejected by the lower house due to the votes of four parties: the ruling ANO and Social Democrats as well as the Communists and Freedom and Direct Democracy Party. The Social Democrats either abstained from the vote or voted against the proposal despite the fact the president recently brought them to the brink of quitting the governing coalition by refusing their nominee for culture minister. Social Democrat MP Kateřina Valachová said that while some of the president’s actions were controversial, her party did not think they merited the president’s removal from office.

“The majority of stated transgressions read like a phone directory of sins based on difference of opinion or ideology, we feel that most of the actions named were not in violation of the constitution”.

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
The head of the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, Tomio Okamura, came out in strong defense of Miloš Zeman, saying the country’s previous presidents had also enforced their will on many issues.

“President Zeman is not doing any more than his predecessors, Václav Havel or Václav Klaus, did. Havel was applauded; Klaus was tolerated and Zeman is being dragged to court.”

The outcome of the opposition bid to remove Zeman from office was clear from the outset, but opposition MPs said it was important to table their stand and highlight the dangers of a constitution that allowed for dual interpretations. Petr Fiala is head of the opposition Civic Democrats.

“Our attempt, with all its weaknesses, is better than the prime minister's attitude of unwarranted subordination.”

Meanwhile, President Zeman ridiculed the attempt to remove him from office, saying via his spokesman that the proposed complaint was a “political pamphlet based on constitutional illiteracy”.