Books on Czech Republic
Update No: 124 - (01/10/07)
TThe powerful presidency
The Czech presidency is an important post, in many ways more than the
premiership, even though it is dependent on the choice of parliament, not the
people – up to now. Its previous occupant, Vaclav Havel, invested it with
immense moral authority. His record as a dissident in the dark days of communism
spoke for itself.
Vaclav Klaus, his successor, is exhibiting a like-minded and staunch departure
from prevailing views. He is opposing the UN no less, as at present constituted.
He proposes a radical reform of its institutions.
The new UN
Klaus speaks on the world stage as the mouthpiece of the former communist
countries of Central Europe. The Kazcinski twins in charge of Poland are a
standing joke; and the man in charge in Hungary, Premier Gyurscany, is a
self-confessed serial liar.
Klaus started his speech to the UN General assembly on September 24th, indeed,
by establishing his own credentials to address the body. He said the Czech
Republic deserved to be elected a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security
Council for 2008-2009. "I believe that we can be trusted by the majority of
Member States and that we do deserve their votes," Klaus said.
He stressed that the Czech Republic had been present in the body in 1994-1995.
"We were predictable and committed to hard work," Klaus said.
"Now, as President of the Czech Republic I can assure you that we will do
even a better job," he added.
Then he came to the crunch. “The Czech Republic is deeply convinced about the
necessity of prevention of and non-violent solution to conflicts,” Klaus said.
"This can be proved by our own behaviour - by the peaceful dissolution of
Czechoslovakia in 1992. Over the last years, we have multiplied our official
development assistance," he added. Klaus spoke in favour of removal of the
barriers "that hinder economic progress, especially of developing
The United Nations need changes that should more reflect the current situation
in the world than at the time when it was established 62 years ago, Klaus said.
It is a "an extremely important and in fact irreplaceable platform. There
is no substitute for it in the current world. It is a platform for meetings and
consultations, for dialogue and - eventually - for reaching agreements on
treaties among nations sharing the same or similar values and political
stances," he added.
"This unique platform is based on the plurality of views of 192 Member
States and on our mutual respect towards their, sometimes differing positions.
The ambition of the U.N. is not, and should never be, searching for one
obligatory, unitary view imposed by some of us on those who disagree,"
Klaus said he was against the concept of "global governance," based on
the "indefensible idea" that the world can be masterminded,
controlled, managed and planned. "To aspire to do that is something we can
never accept," he added.
The efforts at making the decisions in the United Nations easier and faster
should not threaten the exchange of views, Klaus said. "Our communist past
tells us that we should not do that. We also want the U.N. to be reasonably
operational. But we categorically oppose that it happens at the expense of
individual Member States," he added.
Klaus said meaningful activities should be supported, but not programmes that
restrict human activities and harm economic development. "We would help
global development more by reducing barriers than by providing more conditional
aid," Klaus said.
Klaus reiterated the issue of climate changes, he addressed at the meeting of
world statesmen in the United Nations. "Even this potential problem, as
well as any other, can never be solved without relying on freedom, free markets,
free trade and other attributes of a free society," Klaus said. "To
preserve the environment is very important but we have to be more modest in our
attempting to control the complexities of the world," he added.
The status of the presidency in dispute
There are moves afoot to change the status of the presidency, indeed to
enhance it further. This is the result no doubt of public disillusionment with
the paralysis afflicting parliamentary politics and government for a good while,
to which we turn in a moment.
The direct presidential election has no tradition in the Czech Republic and its
possible introduction should be linked with strengthening presidential powers,
Cyril Svoboda (Christian Democrats), minister in charge of legislation, said at
a conference on the direct presidential election in the Senate.
“If we accepted the idea of having the head of state elected directly by
people, it would be necessary to revise the president's constitutional
powers," Svoboda said. “If elected by all people, the president would
need his position among other constitutional institutions to be strengthened,”
Svoboda said. Such a president would not, for instance, have to submit some
decisions to the prime minister for signature, Svoboda added.
Anchoring direct presidential elections in the constitution without making
changes in the presidential powers could produce power disputes between the
government and the head of state, Svoboda said.
According to Svoboda, an argument for direct presidential elections cannot be
the "problematic experience" from the last election in 2003, when MPs
elected current President Vaclav Klaus only after several-week-long attempts, in
the third round of the third election.
Senate chairman Premysl Sobotka (senior ruling Civic Democrats, ODS) said he was
in favour of maintaining the present model of election of the head of state by
Sobotka nevertheless added that he would not fight against direct presidential
elections at any cost. Sobotka also said the constitutional order would have to
be shifted towards the presidential system if the president were to be elected
by all the people.
Matters closer to home
But of course the present governance of the country matters too. And that is in
the hands of the existing premier and his government.
In early June 2006, Czech voters renewed the Chamber of Representatives. Final
results gave the governing Civil Democratic Party (ODS) 35.58 per cent of all
cast ballots, followed by the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) with 32.32
per cent. Czech parties require at least five per cent of the vote to earn seats
under the country’s proportional representation system. The final tallies gave
the ODS, the Christian and Democratic Union - Czech People’s Party (KDU-CSL)
and the Green Party (SZ) 100 seats in the lower house, with the remaining 100
seats going to the CSSD and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM).
The tie among rival factions led to a long political stalemate. In January,
Czech president Vaclav Klaus re-appointed ODS leader Mirek Topolanek as prime
minister. Topolanek’s government eventually won a confidence motion in the
Chamber of Representatives after a 100-97 vote.
New poll findings
The main opposition party in the Czech Republic improved its standing in
September, according to a poll by Factum Invenio. 33 per cent of respondents
would back the CSSD in the next legislative election, up 2.3 points since
The governing ODS came second with 32.2 per cent, followed by the KSCM with 15.3
per cent, the SZ with 7.1 per cent, and the KDU-CSL with 6.8 per cent.
Green minister resigns
On September 25th, Czech education minister and SZ member Dana Kuchtova
resigned. Kuchtova was in charge of designing a comprehensive programme on how
to best dispense with European Union (EU) funds, but failed to complete it on
Topolanek said he did not ask directly for the minister’s resignation,
declaring, "I certainly did not exert any pressure on them. They certainly
felt it themselves that she harms the Green Party and the government
coalition." Topolanek also denied Kutchova’s departure could mean
"any noticeable changes in the government."