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    Attempt to Limit Czech President's Powers is Punishment for Independence

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    The Czech government has approved a bill limiting the constitutionally approved powers of the president in foreign and domestic policy. Commenting on the proposed constitutional amendment, Party of Civic Rights Senator Jan Veleba told Sputnik that the proposal lacks all logic, and an attempt to punish Zeman for his political independent-mindedness.

    "I believe that these amendments are paradoxical. How can the very limited powers of the president, (who was popularly elected, by the way), be cut back even further? 2,714,405 citizens voted for Milos Zeman. To infringe upon the authority of the factual 'people's president' is not logical. In trying to reduce the influence of the president, the government is increasing its own. I anticipate great difficulties in seeing the draft bill passed through parliament," Veleba stated.

    The senator noted that the initiative, led by the government of Bohuslav Sobotka, is an unashamed political power play, aimed at increasing the government's power over the country's democratically elected president:

    "In the Czech Republic, we have a parliamentary democracy. But now experts on constitutional law are coming to the conclusion that we are departing from parliamentary democracy toward a 'government of the republic', which cannot exist in principle. This is clearly a reaction to the growing influence of the president following direct elections. In my view, he has a strong mandate which the government is trying to limit."

    Asked by Sputnik whether the government initiative is connected to President Zeman's special relationship with the Russian president and his calling a spade a spade and saying that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is a civil war, Veleba noted that "to a certain extent, it is. Milos Zeman is a politician who does not allow himself to be lorded over. He is, in fact, the only one among the heads of EU governments who doesn't allow himself to be dictated to by Brussels unconditionally.  And here, as a result, he is being made to pay for his consistent defense of the national interests of the Czech Republic: for his policy toward Russia, toward China and eastern countries. Specifically, he is paying for being one of the few European leaders to visit Moscow for the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Victory Day."

    Veleba stated that he sincerely hopes that the country's parliament will not support the government initiative. "However, it is a difficult thing to make predictions about. I would be happy if the bill did not pass. But even if it was approved, it would apply only to the new president, who will be elected in 2017. It is unclear whether Milos Zeman will run for a second term." 

    Last week, the Czech government approved a draft bill aimed at amending the country's constitution, which would limit the president's powers to choose the Central Bank's seven-member monetary policy board, and to set the course for the country's foreign policy agenda. The bill also proposes the simplification of the process for the president's impeachment. To pass, the bill will require the approval of 60 percent of lawmakers in both houses of the country's parliament. According to analysts, the current three-party coalition government lacks a required constitutional majority, and would require the support of opposition lawmakers for the bill to pass.

    Unlike his predecessors, who were appointed by parliament, Zeman was elected by popular vote in 2013. Stepping out in his own defense last week following the announcement of the government initiative, Zeman stated: "I don't understand why the president elected in a direct popular vote should have less authority than the president elected by parliament."

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    Tags:
    constitutional reform, government, reform, president, constitution, Czech parliament, Jan Veleba, Bohuslav Sobotka, Milos Zeman, Czech Republic
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