Czech government proposes to limit president's powers

By bne IntelliNews June 3, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

 

The Czech government has approved a draft amendment that would weaken the powers of the presidency, sparking off another row between the ruling Social Democrats and their former leader, President Milos Zeman.

Under the changes, the government wants to give the Senate - the upper house of parliament - the right to vet central bankers nominated by the head of state. The president is currently solely responsible for appointing the seven members of the Czech National Bank (CNB). Other changes envisage tightening the rules on the president's power to appoint the cabinet and limiting the president’s foreign policy role.

The planned changes were criticised by the presidential office, which said the new rules for appointing the CNB board would endanger its independence from political structures.

The approval of the bill comes at a time when the government and the CNB are becoming increasingly frustrated over the president’s meddling in policy. In recent months Zeman has stepped up his criticism of CNB’s policy of keeping the koruna weak and pledged to appoint central bankers who will “rectify” the move. Zeman has also called for early Czech entry to the Eurozone, despite central bank opposition, and his pro-Russian stance has undermined the government’s foreign policy.

Zeman is due to appoint a new CNB governor in 2016, when the proposed bill is expected to come into force.

However, in order to become law, the bill needs to be supported by a constitutional majority in both houses of parliament. The CSSD-led coalition controls 111 of the 200 seats in the lower house, which would leave it needing nine votes. 

It's far from clear if the CSSD and its leading partner Ano would be able to muster the suppport of all their own MPs. Zeman maintains influence in sections of the CSSD, while Ano's stance would depend on their leader and finance minister Andrej Babis, who has shown himself ready to work with Zeman in the past and may harbour ambitions to be president himself. The president suggested recently that Babis should become PM if the coalition were to collapse - an event that is currently not on the cards.

Upon taking office, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka - a sworn-enemy of Zeman - said the government will draft constitutional changes to limit the president's scope of action. The government claims the new rules are needed since now the president is directly elected rather than selected by parliament.

Zeman won the country’s first direct presidential elections in 2013. He has used this mandate to be more active than his predecessors in shaping policy, often causing feuds with the parliament and the government.

Following the collapse of the centre-right government of Petr Necas in the middle of 2013, Zemand was accused of attempting a power grab by appointing a cabinet of his allies against the will of parliamentary parties. He then held out against appointing the new government, opposing certain CSSD-nominated ministers.

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