Vaclav Klaus against direct presidential elections in Czech Republic

Czech president Vaclav Klaus has expressed his discontent with the plans to change the mode of presidential election from indirect to popular elections.

During a press conference on Monday, the head of the Czech presidential administration, Jiri Weigl, said that Klaus opposed the plans of the government which are also backed by opposition parties. According to Klaus, the country is not ready for such a major political change – the Czech Republic had been a parliamentary system from the beginning and he saw no sense in chaning this. Furthermore, Klaus criticised that the changes are introduced by an amendment to the election law only and constitutional powers of government and president will not be readjusted. The president presumes that a directly elected president would disposes of a stronger legitimacy than he currently does and might therefore upset the balance between the institutions. In sum, it would make effective governing even harder, Weigl quoted Klaus.

The planned change of the mode of presidential elections in the Czech Republic might indeed bring several problems: During Klaus’ presidency, the presidential office has emerged as a rival to the government with regard to executive authority. Klaus managed to find ways apart from his limited formal powers to either influence or block government policies (e.g. his refusal to sign the Lisbon treaty) and acitively used his connections from the time when he was prime minister. Imagining someone like Klaus entering office with the – at least perceived – higher legitimacy of direct election might turn the Czech Republic into a French semi-presidentialist system with a predominant president. Futhermore, there are some theoretical issues concerning the separation of powers: The Czech president currently possesses the power to convoke parliament and demand floor time at any point in time. While this now might still be justified by the fact that parliament elects the president, these provisions will give a directly elected president even more power about the legislature.

It seems that the government fears to amend the constitution in this respect (which is how Slovakia changed the mode of presidential election more than a decade ago), probably due to higher thresholds to do so and the amount of work associated with it. Furthermore, this would require a more general debate about the role of the president in the Czech polity. The governing parties seem to be deeply divided concerning this topic and might not want to risk a public disagreement in order not to endanger its – as in every Central East European country generally problematic – reelection.

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