Senate Motion To Remove President Zeman From Office Fails In Czech Parliament

Senators made a constitutional complaint against Zeman in response to several recent incidents in which the president was accused of stretching the limits of his presidential authority. Photo: President Milos Zeman. Credit:

Czech Rep., Oct 1 (BD) – Deputies in the Czech Parliament have rejected a motion, already passed in the Senate, to remove President Milos Zeman from office. The motion was brought in response to numerous incidents which critics of the president say stretched the limits of presidential authority. The Czech President is supposed to be a ceremonial figurehead, in place to guard the constitution and ensure stability in the political system. However, President Zeman has been persistently criticised since his election in 2013 for overreaching his constitutional powers. The motion to remove him from office listed eight separate allegations of presidential overreach, and was based on a 2013 constitutional amendment permitting the Constitutional Court to remove the head of state in case of a “blunt breach of the constitution.”

The motion was defeated due to opposition from the ruling coalition partners, ANO and CSSD, as well as the Communist Party and the far-right SPD. An MP from CSSD, Milos Zeman’s former party during his parliamentary days, said that while Zeman’s actions were controversial, they “read like sins based on difference of opinion or ideology, and we feel that most of the actions named were not in violation of the constitution.” President Zeman himself responded in a characteristically combative manner, saying through a spokesperson that the motion was a “political pamphlet based on constitutional illiteracy.”

One challenge of the Czech constitutional system is that the exact limits of the president’s power are not well-defined, either in the political or judicial sphere. Although power officially rests with the executive (the Prime Minister and his cabinet), President Zeman officially approves ministers selected by the Prime Minister, and can both order and block investigations by state attorneys. The complicated role of the president was complicated further by the introduction of direct elections for the post in 2013; although ceremonial, the president can claim a greater personal mandate from the electorate than any MP, including the Prime Minister. Most ceremonial heads of state around Europe are either monarchs, or appointed by some other method. Senator Vaclav Láska (Senator 21 Group), one of the drafters of the proposal, demanded a clearer definition of the president’s role as something crucial for Czech democracy: “At a time when the president is undisputedly destructing the constitutional order in the Czech Republic, and undermining the system of parliamentary democracy, it is important for the Constitutional Court to respond to this complaint by saying just how far the president’s powers stretch.” 

Eight alleged constitutional breaches were listed in the motion, including attempts to interfere with the outcome of court cases, blocking of ministers proposed by the Prime Minister, and his claims that the Novichok nerve agent used to poison a Russian dissident in the UK was Czech-produced. Zeman also recently claimed that he would use his presidential powers to block any investigation into the financial affairs of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, comments which were met with outrage from critics.

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