Senators say Zeman violated constitution but legal move likely doomed

Miloš Zeman, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

The Czech Senate has voted to bring charges against President Miloš Zeman for allegedly violating the country’s constitution, including by refusing to appoint a government minister. However, the make-up of the lower house means the move is unlikely to oust the head of state.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
On Wednesday the upper house of Parliament voted 48–20 in favour of taking a complaint against President Miloš Zeman to the Constitutional Court.

The senators behind the move initially accused the president and his staff of seeking to influence the judiciary. Seven other charges of violating the constitution have also been levelled against him, including not acting in line with official foreign policy and failing to remove or appoint a government minister.

For the matter to reach the highest court in the land it would also need the support of three-fifths of Czech MPs, which is highly unlikely in view of the composition of the Chamber of Deputies.

But Senator Jiří Růžička, who was elected on a joint TOP 09 and Mayors and Independents ticket, says the upper house was duty-bound to act.

“We can’t speculate in advance about whether the Chamber of Deputies approves it or not. But we, who ought to oversee adherence to the constitution and constitutionality, believe that constitutionality is not being adhered to. We have to put forward the motion regardless of what happens next.”

Senators Miloš Vystrčil,  Petr Šilar,  Petr Holeček,  Václav Láska,  Zdeňka Hamousová,  Petr Vícha,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
After Wednesday’s behind-closed-doors vote the head of the Civic Democrats’ senators group, Miloš Vystrčil, said the upper house was carrying out the task for which it was established.

“I’m glad the Senate has succeeded in fulfilling its duty, and its powers set by the constitution, and giving the Chamber of Deputies the space to allow the Czech public, the Czech population, to discover whether the president has been violating the constitution in a serious manner.”

Among the seven senators who abstained on Wednesday was upper house speaker Jaroslav Kubera. He says the vote was unnecessary.

“It’s not a question of adherence to the constitution or otherwise. It’s a question of simple common sense, for which we don’t need the constitution. If, and this is a political rule, a coalition party has the right to a minister’s position, it makes a nomination. If the other party doesn’t like it, they can’t question it. Otherwise why form a coalition.”

Mr. Kubera is referring here to the ongoing impasse surrounding the replacement of the minister of culture, where critics say the president is overstepping his powers.

Jaroslav Kubera,  photo: Prokop Havel / Czech Radio
Given the evident doomed nature of the senators’ move, Mr. Zeman’s spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček was typically withering in his response.

“From the factual perspective it has no meaning whatsoever, because the chances of this matter also being approved by the Chamber of Deputies are close to zero. As for the actual content, this has nothing at all to do with the constitution. It’s a political pamphlet.”

The senators’ action has precedent. Six years ago the upper house voted on an ultimately fruitless constitutional complaint against then head of state Václav Klaus.