Czech Republic: Change of government with obstacles

As of: November 8th, 2021 3:22 a.m.

The newly elected parliament is constituted in Prague. It is the first step towards a change of government – with a possible new Prime Minister Fiala. But the way there could still be difficult.

Peter Lange, ARD Studio Prague

At first everything will be the same: The ANO politician Radek Vondracek will open the session of the new House of Representatives in the afternoon as chairman of the old parliament; the new representatives are sworn in on the constitution. The previous Prime Minister Andrej Babis then submits the resignation of his government to the President, but is asked by the latter to remain in office until the successor is appointed.

Peter Lange
ARD-Studio Prag

Zeman is still in the hospital

From now on it gets complicated: Milos Zeman, the Czech President, has been in the Prague military hospital for four weeks. He was able to leave the intensive care unit last week, but he is not allowed to receive visitors because of the corona pandemic. Andrej Babis therefore wants to send his resignation in writing. Constitutional lawyers are now discussing: The president must accept the resignation in person, some say. No, that can also be done in writing, say the others.

Pressure in the boiler decreased

However, it seems that this is now a rather secondary question. Because the pressure in the cauldron of Prague politics has decreased considerably since President Milos Zeman publicly announced last Thursday that he wanted to appoint Petr Fiala as prime minister. The chairman of the Democratic Citizens’ Party (ODS) and top candidate of the conservative three-party alliance Spolu (Joint), together with the electoral alliance of Pirates and Mayor’s Party (PirStan), has a majority of 108 of the 200 seats in the House of Representatives.

Since the election four weeks ago, all five parties have drawn up a coalition agreement that is due to be signed in the morning before the parliamentary session.

But the whole time the question was in the room whether the president could or would appoint this government, when he had said before the election that he considered these alliances to be a fraud against the electorate and that he would appoint the leader of the strongest single party as the new prime minister.

Babi’s allies have been lost

According to mandates, this is still Andrej Babis’ ANO, which even has one more mandate than the three-party alliance Spolu. However, with the Communists and Social Democrats, he has lost his previous allies who failed in the election because of the five percent hurdle. Because no one of the previous center-right opposition wanted to negotiate a coalition with him, Babis declared a few days later that if it came to that, he would reject a new government mandate from Zeman and instead join the opposition. He confirmed this to the president by telephone last Thursday.

Subsequently, in a radio interview, Zeman announced to the surprised public that he had no problem appointing Fiala as prime minister because he was the only one with a parliamentary majority. And once in a good mood, the President revealed that he was feeling much better and: “Imagine, I haven’t smoked for four weeks!” Which is probably less due to his willpower than to the fact that you are not allowed to smoke in any intensive care unit in the world.

Video conference between Fiala and Zeman

On Saturday, Fiala spoke to Zeman in a half-hour video conference. He also had a good impression: “I saw Milos Zeman as I used to know him.” They want to meet personally as soon as possible. And the government should be appointed after the president leaves the hospital. A temporary transfer of the President’s powers to other constitutional organs thus seems to have moved into the background for the time being.

According to Fiala, his five-party government could start work before Christmas.

Three possible obstacles

However, there are still three unknowns in the reckoning: First, Zeman’s recovery process. His doctors apparently see his health more critically than he does. They neither want to determine when Zeman can fully exercise his office again nor when he can probably leave the hospital.

The boom in the electoral alliance PirStan hangs crooked

Second, in the electoral alliance PirStan, the alliance of pirates and mayor’s party, the house blessing hangs crooked. Many in the Pirate Party feel that their partner is being taken advantage of by the use of so-called preferential votes. In the Czech Republic, voters can bring up to four candidates placed below the top. As a result, only four pirates from PirStan’s joint list made it into parliament, but 33 mandates went to the mayors. The pirates are very frustrated. This week, your members will decide in an online vote whether the coalition agreement will be accepted. That has become a factor of uncertainty.

Zeman could reject the cabinet list

And finally, Zeman himself. He could take apart Fiala’s cabinet list. According to the Constitution, the President appoints the ministers on the proposal of the Prime Minister. And Zeman has always kept it that way: They are only suggestions – so you can also reject them.

Change of government in the Czech Republic begins with obstacles

Peter Lange, ARD Prague, 7.11.2021 · 16:40

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