Party leaders discuss direct presidential elections

Next February the Czech Republic is set to choose a new president. Both houses of the country's parliament will take part in a secret vote to decide if Vaclav Klaus remains in office, or if the country gets a new president. But will that be the last such vote? The idea of a direct vote by the public has been discussed many times over the years. What are the chances of that becoming reality any time soon? Direct presidential elections was the subject of a debate at the Senate on Wednesday.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
The issue of a direct vote of the president has been periodically reappearing on the Czech political scene, usually at times when the term of the serving president is coming to an end. The conference held by the Senate on Wednesday summed up the different arguments for or against the direct vote, and the chairmen of the five Czech parliamentary parties presented their viewpoints. The reason the conference was held now, when a search has begun for an anti-Klaus, or a candidate that would have at least some chances of beating current President Vaclav Klaus, is that politicians are much more sensitive to the whole presidential agenda. This is what PM Mirek Topolanek had to say about the direct vote.

"These are two questions: my position and the position of my party. Members of my party do not have strong opinion on either the direct or indirect vote of the president. It is perhaps half and half. My position is not to change the system now that is functioning and that is traditional in the Czech Republic. But we are prepared to start discussions with other political parties about this issue and possibly change it. But the debate is not so simple and not so short."

All the party leaders are aware of one crucial question - if direct vote is introduced, should the president be also endowed with more powers? Jiri Paroubek said they carried out a referendum with his party, the SD, and while 86 % of SDs are for the direct vote, 95 % think the president should not have more power than he has now. This view is shared by other parties, i.e. the Green Party, and the Christian Democrats as well. In their opinion, the president should be elected directly by popular vote but the Czech constitutional system should not give the president more power. The Communist Party are more for the direct vote than against it but what is more important for them is the issue of referendum. They think that if more direct democracy elements are to be established, they should begin with the act on referendum.

Cyril Svoboda
Minister Cyril Svoboda, of the Christian Democrats, was one of the organizers of the conference, besides the head of the Senate Premysl Sobotka, and Mr Svoboda's opinion on the issue is different than the one of his party.

"In my view, there is no link between the quality of democracy and the way we elect the president of the republic. Speaking about the situation we have in my country, I am very sceptical. It will very difficult, and nearly impossible, to harmonize the position on the constitution, and to reach an agreement on how to amend the constitution. There are differences represented by the different political parties, and it will be extremely difficult. That is the reason why I am a little more conservative and would not like to changer the rules. The quality of democracy is not linked to the way how the president of the country is elected."