Senate to decide whether to press treason charges against outgoing president

Václav Klaus, photo: Khalil Baalbaki

Lawmakers in the Czech Senate began deliberations on Monday to decide whether or not to press treason charges against the country’s president, Václav Klaus, who steps down in four days’ time. A group of senators tabled the vote in response to a number of steps taken by Mr Klaus while in office, including the declaration this year of a highly-controversial amnesty.

Václav Klaus,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
Never before have Czech senators gathered to file charges of treason against the country’s president. Final deliberations took place on Monday just days before Václav Klaus – the country’s head-of-state for 10 years – steps down. The decision to vote on the complaint was instigated by a group of mostly left-wing senators based on steps taken by the president – or in some cases not – including the failure to name new Constitutional Court judges or delaying the signing and ratification of EU documents such as the Lisbon Treaty. Most damning, in critics’ eyes, is this January’s amnesty which controversially halted (or could halt) a number of high-profile corruption cases. Twenty-eight senators signed the proposal last Wednesday, while an additional six confirmed for Czech TV they would vote in favour. Social Democrat Senator Jiří Dienstbier spoke to Czech TV:

Jiří Dienstbier,  photo: CTK
“We believe that some of the actions the president took were contrary to his constitutional duties and went against the pledge of office, in which the president promises to uphold the Constitution of the Czech Republic.”

On Monday, meanwhile, 15 senators indicated they had not yet decided which way they were going to vote, making the decision potentially a good deal closer than originally expected. A decision is expected on late Monday afternoon at the earliest. That didn’t mean opponents were staying quiet: backers of the outgoing president, namely top Civic Democrats in the senate slammed the proposal to press charges as little more than an attempt to tarnish the president in his final days in office – a settling of old political scores. Just days ago the prime minister described the step as the sorriest move he had seen in two decades in Czech politics, while Václav Klaus himself, not surprisingly, criticised the proposal:

“It’s sad that some people in the opposition use the threat of the Constitutional Court to express political disagreement.”

Photo: Tomáš Adamec
If the proposal passes and goes to the Constitutional Court, the worst that could befall the former president is that he could lose his job. Considering he is stepping down in all of four days, that point seems largely moot. On the other hand, if the complaint goes ahead and the court confirmed Mr Klaus acted outside the Constitution, it could hurt him politically well into the future. The president has repeatedly made clear he intends to remain active in political life even after stepping down; were he to return to party politics or to launch a new party (as some have speculated) his “return” could be heavily blunted.