Zeman and Babiš push Senate abolition – but could it happen?

Czech Senate, photo: Krokodyl / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just days after the second round of Senate elections, there are increasing calls – including from the president – for the upper chamber of the Czech Parliament to be abolished. Supporters, meanwhile, argue that it is an important safeguard of democracy. But is the abolition of the Senate a serious possibility?

Czech Senate,  photo: Krokodyl / CC BY-SA 3.0
Within hours of the close of voting on one third of the seats in the Senate, Andrej Babiš – whose ANO didn’t do well – suggested that it should be abolished.

The ANO chief said that the upper house was unnecessary, costly and hampered the legislative process.

Mr. Babiš has since gone further, producing a plan as to how to close the Senate: pay off the 81 legislators in the chamber with pensions for life, if they vote to dissolve it.

His latest comments followed a Czech Television interview with the president on Tuesday.

Miloš Zeman too floated the idea of doing away with the Senate, highlighting record low turnout of 15.4 percent at the weekend.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Ask yourself a simple question: Does a city of 10 million people, called the Czech Republic, need two chambers of parliament. I often ask myself this question and, if I’m very polite to the Senate, the answer is I’m not sure… It seems it’s all the same to people if the Senate exists or not – if they valued it more, turnout would be higher.”

For their part, supporters of the Senate say that it is an important constitutional safeguard: It would serve as a crucial counterbalance if some party were to suddenly come to power in the lower house on a wave of populism, they argue.

Political scientist Jiří Pehe says that in any case the demise of the higher chamber is very unlikely.

“The Senate would have to agree to its own abolition and it would have to be done with a constitutional majority.

“Talk about abolishing the Senate starts after every Senate elections, but it always goes away very quickly, simply because it is not realistic.”

Given that Mr. Zeman and Mr. Babiš know all of these things you’re saying, why are they calling for the abolition of the Senate?

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Martin Svozílek
“Well, I think Mr. Babiš and Mr. Zeman are calling for the abolition of the Senate simply because it sounds good.

“They are both populist politicians and to say something along the lines that the Senate should be abolished simply because it is not a popular institution, and doing so would streamline the Czech political system, is really something that would be appreciated by their voters – never mind that it will never happen.”