Czech president released from hospital after alleged convalescent stay

Czech president released from hospital after alleged convalescent stay
The 77-year-old head of state is a heavy drinker and chain smoker who suffers from diabetes.
By bne IntelliNews September 24, 2021

Czech President Milos Zeman was released from hospital on September 22, after he spent the past eight days at the Central Military Hospital in Prague suffering from dehydration and mild fatigue, according to the president's office.

There has been speculation that the 77-year-old head of state, a heavy drinker and chain smoker who suffers from diabetes, could be seriously ill but the Prague Castle spokesperson only said that the president had had to leave his one-week "convalescent stay" in the hospital to hold several meetings with government and opposition representatives. 

In the past critics in the Senate have proposed removing Zeman for being incapable of performing his duties, as well as backing the Kremlin's line in disputes with Prague, though they have failed to win sufficient support for this idea.

Zeman´s health is all the more important now when the general elections are approaching, as it is the president who nominates the head of the winning party to form a new government. Zeman, a onetime Social Democrat, has consistently backed Prime Minister Andrej Babis and at this election has even recommended that voters back the billionaire populist's ANO party. He has also said that he will pardon Babis if he is ever put on trial over the Stork's Nest fraud case.

Already at the beginning of the year, Zeman said that the next prime minister should be the winner of the elections, stressing, however, that winning an election is measured by the number of seats won by the individual party, not a coalition. 

“I would add by the number of seats won for a particular political party. Not for a coalition," Zeman said, implying that he might not pick the two coalitions running for the general elections, the Pirate party and STAN (Mayors and Independents) and the coalition SPOLU (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, TOP09), should they win the elections, but rather Babis' personal vehicle ANO. 

According to a recent poll by Median from September 7, Babis´ ANO would win the general elections with 27% of votes, followed by the centre-right coalition SPOLU with 21% and the coalition of Pirates and STAN with 20.5%.

It is very likely that if Babis wins the elections, Zeman will appoint him to form the government, even if it was a minority one.  The president could then bring pressure on individual parties to join ANO in government, though both coalitions are currently rejecting any co-operation with the premier.

In the case of political deadlock after the election, the president could even create his own government, as Zeman did back in 2013-14, though this government would likely only last until at most the next presidential election in January 2023, where Zeman is not allowed to stand.

“This would be very hard for our constitutional system,” said Benjamin Roll in an interview for bne IntelliNews, adding: “[So long as] Milos Zeman is president, there is a huge danger for our state and we need to be ready to react.”

In April, six months before the elections, the Czech Chamber of Deputies approved a new method for allocating seats in the parliament in proportion to the votes they get during the elections, including lower thresholds for coalitions to enter the chamber, following a Constitutional Court ruling from February

The court annulled aspects of the electoral law that it said unfairly favoured bigger political parties, a decision that could prevent Prime Minister Andrej Babis remaining in power.

The coalition of the Pirates/STAN coalition now has to receive only 8% of the vote and the three-party coalition SPOLU 11% of the vote.