Parliament deputy refuses to give up mandate despite jail sentence

Roman Pekárek, photo: CTK

The Prague High Court on Tuesday sentenced the former Civic Democrat MP Roman Pekárek to five years in prison for bribery and abuse of office. He is expected to begin serving his sentence in a few weeks time, but appears determined to keep his seat in the lower house of Parliament. The decision has caused an outcry since under Czech law he cannot be forced to give up his mandate.

Roman Pekárek,  photo: CTK
The former deputy mayor of Kolín, Roman Pekárek, is a fresh face in Parliament, having taken a seat in the lower house in early November, after three Civic Democratic rebel MPs from his Central Bohemian region unexpectedly stepped down. And having once been sworn in, he is now refusing to budge.

Although in addition to jail time and a hefty fine the verdict prohibits Mr Pekárek from working in state or local administration, it paradoxically cannot prohibit him from remaining a member of parliament while doing time. He is not the only MP to have retained their mandate with courts breathing down their necks – David Rath and Jaroslav Škarka have also refused to give up their seats. But none have done so in the face of a legally binding verdict.

Pekárek’s ownparty – the Civic Democrats – have urged him to resign his seat in the house but they admit they have no real leverage in the matter, as deputy chairman of the party and former Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil said on Tuesday evening:

“We have no influence over Mr Pekárek right now. He has suspended his membership in the Civic Democratic Party and is no longer a member of our deputies’ club. We, of course, think that under the circumstances Mr Pekárek should voluntarily leave the lower house.”

Jiří Pospíšil,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
Although tensions have been running high between the coalition and opposition parties in the past few months, one thing they could all get behind this week was that Roman Pekárek should resign his mandate. Yet, despite mounting political pressure, deputy Pekárek said on Wednesday he had no intention of doing so for the time being, and that he planned to file an appeal to the Supreme Court. So for now, he will most likely collect his parliamentary salary from prison.

If he does retain his parliamentary mandate while in jail, the ruling coalition will not be able to replace him with another deputy, raising concerns that the empty chair will further weaken the fragile coalition majority in the lower house. But Civic Democratic Justice Minister Pavel Blažek was defiant on Tuesday, saying that Mr Pekárek’s vote is not vital to the coalition’s future:

“There are a number of important votes scheduled for tomorrow in the Chamber of Deputies. And I believe we will do fine without his vote. We do not need to rely on his vote.”

The case has renewed debate on a proposal to amend the consitution in such a way that a convicted MP would automatically lose their mandate. Head of the TOP 09 parliamentary club, Petr Gazdík:

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“Lower house speaker Miroslava Němcová has submitted a proposal that says that if an MP is legally sentenced for a crime, he would immediately lose his mandate – the same way it works with mayors of towns or cities. Unfortunately, the lawyers who drafted the constitution did not even take into consideration that we could have MPs who would be sentenced in court.”

More than half a year after the initial proposal, the amendment is yet to be discussed, and some have doubts - despite the current situation – whether it will gain the necessary three fifth of the vote in both houses. For now, all eyes are fixed on MP Roman Pekárek, in the hope that he may yet reconsider his decision and avoid further public disgrace.