Czech president forced into climbdown after overstepping his powers

By bne IntelliNews May 23, 2013

bne -

Czech President Milos Zeman has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown in his fight over the boundaries of his post, as he agreed on May 22 to drop his opposition to the appointment of a professorship to a staunch critic and gay activist.

Zeman's use of an antiquated custom which sees the president sign off on the appointment of top academics caused protest from all sides of the political spectrum, as well as across academia, amongst many Czechs, and even some church leaders, when he blocked the promotion of Martin C. Putna by Charles University.

On May 22, after a week of fierce debate, Zeman dropped his objection to the appointment - which he had said was prompted by Putna's appearance with a placard reading "buzna" (queer) at a gay pride march in 2011. However, seeking to salvage some pride, the president insisted that the award will be presented by the country's education minister. Zeman will hand out 60 professorships in a ceremony at Prague Castle next month.

While some critics claim the presidential block was motivated by Putna's sharp criticism of Zeman rather than his gay activism, in the background is the president's aggressive push to expand the power of his post since he became the country's first directly elected head of state in March. The main thrust of that fight is the long-running standoff between Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg - who lost the second round vote for the presidency - over the appointment of an ambassador to Slovakia.

Zeman's aggressive push appears nothing more than an attempt to extend the pervasive power that he and predecessor Vaclav Klaus have held over Czech politics since practically the fall of communism. It looks designed to finally bring the wobbling government coalition down, and increase his leverage within the opposition CSSD - which is practically guaranteed to govern following the next election. That is a fight in which he can't afford too many climbdowns.

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