Czech Republic: Lower house vote paves way for direct presidential elections in 2013

Prague Castle, the official residence of the Czech president – © Philipp Köker, 2009

After a long debate the lower house of the Czech parliament has finally opened the way for popular presidential elections in 2013. Out of 192 deputies present 159 voted in favour of the constitutional amendment. Before it can enter into force the Czech senate still has to approve of the bill.

The amendment foresees a presidential election in a two-round system; a candidate needs to gain more than 50 per cent in the first round to win in the first round, if no candidate gains an absolute majority of votes the two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the second round. The president will be elected for a five-year term just as under the existing regulations; however, there will now be a possibility to remove the president from office before the end of their term.

The discussion about the mode of presidential election has been a recurring topic in Czech politics whereby parties almost always unanimously supported the introduction of direct elections. After the debate resurfaced in November 2011 (see also here) the Czechs did not quite believe that politicians would manage to take action this time; and indeed, it looked grim in September this year.

A prominent first critic of the amendment was incumbent president Vaclav Klaus who argued that a change of the mode of presidential election would require a change in presidential powers as well which had not been foreseen in the early drafts. Interestingly, the broad support for the bill in today’s vote (i.e. primarily the support of the Social Democrats) was triggered by the acceptance of several amendments aimed at limiting presidential prerogatives and privileges. The president will now only be immune from criminal prosecution during his/her time in office (and not afterwards as well) and decisions to stop criminal proceedings need to be countersigned by the prime minister or another cabinet member. Nevertheless, the Social Democrats’ proposal to make  presidential appointments of National Bank board members also subject to countersignature was rejected.

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