President wants final say on cabinet line-up

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

The parties of the emerging Czech coalition government report they have cleared most of the disputed points of their future programme, coming closer to striking a final deal. But in filling the posts in the next cabinet, coalition leaders might face an addition hurdle after President Miloš Zeman made it clear he wanted a final word on the line-up.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
The leaders of the Social Democratic, ANO and the Christian Democratic parties came together on Saturday in what was only their second meeting since starting talks on forming the next Czech government.

After the meeting, Social Democrat leader and most likely the next prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka told reporters that with the exception of two crucial areas, agreement on the emerging coalition’s policy programme had been reached.

“We discussed all the areas and portfolios which had been dealt with by our expert teams. We agreed on the actual wording of the future coalition programme, with two areas that will yet have to be resolved at the next meeting.”

The two issues that remain to be resolved are taxes and health care. In the latter area, the parties have agreed on cancelling the 30-crown fee for visiting a doctor but have not figured out how to fill the gap this will create in the health care budget.

As far as taxes go, the Social Democrats would like to introduce progressive income tax as well as a tax on banks. The idea is however strongly opposed by their potential coalition partners, ANO and Christian Democrats.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  Andrej Babiš,  Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: CTK
The three parties have also finalized the coalition’s procedural issues, granting each party the right of veto over any government legislation. This addresses concerns raised mainly by the Christian Democrats who fear being outvoted by their partners with a stronger presence both in the cabinet and the lower house.

But the road to the future government might be more complicated than that. The three potential coalition partners are yet to reach a deal on filling the posts of ministers. But on Sunday, President Miloš Zeman made it clear he would certainly want to have a say. Mr Zeman told Czech Radio he will not just accept any nominations made.

“I will respect the agreement of the coalition parties on how they will distribute the ministries among themselves. However, it’s the president who appoints the government and the individual ministers.

“As such, he is co-responsible for the composition of the government. And my underlying idea is that it should not be an incompetent government, as we saw in the past.”

Mr Zeman’s idea has surprised many, from experts on constitutional law to Social Democrat chair Bohuslav Sobotka who said he did not believe the president would want to thwart his party’s efforts to form a government.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
Most legal experts, meanwhile, believe that under certain circumstances, the president could refuse to appoint a minister – in case, for example, the candidate would be illiterate. But under normal circumstances, lawyers say the president should accept the prime minister’s nominations.

This would not be the first time, however, when Mr Zeman would face accusations of bending the Constitution to pursue his own political agenda. It will ultimately depend on the coalition parties to defend their cabinet against the interests of the president.