Senate move signals legal battle over president’s authority

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

A group of Czech senators are preparing to take the president to the Constitutional Court if he doesn’t comply with the prime minister’s wish to dismiss the finance minister. With the head of state showing no sign of climbing down, an unprecedented legal battle could be on the cards.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
Last Friday Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wrote to President Miloš Zeman asking him to dismiss Andrej Babiš as minister of finance.

Such a procedure is covered by article 74 of the Czech Constitution, which states: “The president removes a member of the government if that is proposed by the prime minister.”

Mr. Zeman seems intent on capitalising on the fact that the constitution does not set a concrete deadline for him to take such action and says Mr. Sobotka may not give him orders in this regard.

However, a number of the country’s top legal experts say the head of state must act without delay once he has received such a request.

A group of senators have now announced that if Mr. Zeman doesn’t remove Mr. Babiš within a week they will take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

Milan Štěch,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Milan Štěch is the speaker of the upper house.

“I have been informed that in the coming days I can expect a proposal from a group of at least 27 senators who will request that the Senate begin taking action in accord with article 65 of the Constitution.”

Under Article 65 the Senate can take a constitutional action against the president for two reasons, treason or gross violation of the Constitution or another part of the constitutional order.

If such a step were approved by three-fifths of senators present in the upper house it would also need to be passed by the Chamber of Deputies before the Constitutional Court would be obliged to make a ruling.

Among the senators planning the move is Miluše Horská of the Christian Democrats.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
“A constitutional complaint is of course a major undertaking, when something happens. But the fact the Senate can’t do anything unless something happens really sends a message to citizens – that we are here and we are a safeguard right now if something happens regarding the Czech Constitution that needs to be watched.”

The Senate’s Constitutional Committee was due to meet on Wednesday to fine-tune the wording of the planned complaint.

President Zeman has ruled out taking action on Mr. Babiš until after he returns from a week-long trip to China that begins on Thursday.

If he keeps his word and the senators keep theirs, the head of state may return to the beginnings of a constitutional crisis without precedent in modern Czech history.