President of the Czech Republic: Wikis

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President of
the Czech Republic
Flag of the president of the Czech Republic.svg
Presidential Flag
Incumbent
Václav Klaus
took office: 7 March 2003
Inaugural holder Václav Havel
Formation 2 February 1993
Website www.hrad.cz
Czech Republic

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the Czech Republic



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The President of the Czech Republic is the head of state of the Czech Republic. Unlike some heads of state, such as the modern Emperor of Japan or the British Sovereign, the office goes beyond that of a figurehead, conferring upon its holder a role in political affairs. Because many of his powers can only be exercised with the signatures of both himself and the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, responsibility over some political issues is effectively shared between the two offices.

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Absolute authority

The President of the Czech Republic has the authority to act independently in a number of substantive areas. One of his strongest powers is that of the veto, by which he can return a bill back to parliament. Although his veto may be overridden by parliament[1], his ability to refuse to sign legislation acts as a check on the power of the legislature. The only kind of bills a president can neither veto nor approve are acts which would change the constitution.[2]

The president also has the leading role in the appointment of persons to key high offices. He alone may appoint judges to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, and members of the Bank Board of the Czech National Bank.[2]

Limited sole authority

There are some powers which are reserved to the President, but which he can exercise only under limited circumstances. Chief amongst these is the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies. While the president can dissolve the Chamber on his own authority,[2] forcing a new election of that body within 60 days,[3] he can only do so under conditions prescribed by the constitution.[4]

Duties shared

Many of the president's powers can only be exercised with the assent of the Government, as expressed by the signature of the Prime Minister. These include all matters having to do with foreign relations and the use of the military, the appointment of judges to lower courts, and the granting of amnesty. Except when the Chamber of Deputies has been dissolved because of its failure to form or maintain a functioning government,[4] the president may call for elections to the Chamber and the Senate only with the Prime Minister's approval.[5]

The president also shares responsibility with the Chamber of Deputies for appointing the President and Vice President of the Supreme Control Office[6] – the body in charge of implementing the national budget – although this appointment does not technically require the signature of the Prime Minister.[2]

Immunity from prosecution

Under Art. 54 (3) and 65 (3) of the constitution, the president may not be held liable for any alleged criminal acts while executing the duties of his office. Such prosecution may not occur either while the president is in office or at any time thereafter. Furthermore, Art 65 (1) prevents his trial or detention for prosecution of a criminal offense or tort while in office. The only sort of prosecution allowed for a sitting president is that of high treason, which can only be carried out by the Senate, and can only result in his loss of office and his inability to regain the office at a later date.[7]

Ceremonial powers

Many of the duties of the Czech president can be said to be ceremonial to one degree or another, especially since he or she has relatively few powers independent of the will of the Prime Minister. A good example of this is his status as commander in chief of the military. No part of his duties there can take place but through the assent of the Prime Minister. In matters of war, he is in every sense merely a figurehead, since the constitution gives all substantive constitutional authority over the use of the armed forces to the parliament.[8][9] In fact, the only specific thing the constitution allows the president to do with respect to the military is to appoint its generals – but even this must be done with the signature of the Prime Minister.[5]

Many of the president's ceremonial duties fall under provisions of the constitution which allow him or her to exercise powers "not explicitly defined" in the constitution, but allowed by a lesser law.[5] In other words, parliament has the power to allow the president whatever responsibilities they deem proper, without necessarily having to amend the constitution. Such a law was passed in 1994 with respect to the awarding of state decorations. While the constitution explicitly allows the conferring of honors and awarding of medals by the president only with the signature of the Prime Minister, parliament acted in 1994 to grant the president power to do so on his own authority. Hence, this particular duty is effectively shared between the parliament and the president.[10] The act even allows the president to allow a person of his choosing to perform the actual presentation ceremony.

Election

The office of president is filled following an indirect election by the Parliament of the Czech Republic.

Terms and limits

The term of office of the president is 5 years.[11] Candidates standing for office must be 40 years of age, and must not have already been elected twice consecutively.[12] Since the only term limit is that no person can be elected more than twice consecutively, a person may theoretically achieve the presidency more than twice.

The presidential election must occur within the last 30 days of the president's term of office.[13] However, since the constitution does not specify a date for presidential elections, and instead merely claims that a term begins the day a successful candidate takes the oath of office,[11] the death, resignation, or removal of a president would begin an entirely new 5-year term. Another event that can change the date on which a term begins is the failure of the legislature to elect a new president prior to the expiry of the previous term. As of 2008, such failure is the only reason that the Czech presidential term has begun on a different day. In 2003, the start of the new term was moved from February to March, while the Parliament went through three rounds of balloting. Such variability in the date on which a term starts contrasts with, for example, the President of the United States, where the vacancy of the presidency would merely allow a successor to finish out his predecessor's term.

The constitution makes specific allowances for the failure of a new president to be elected. If a new President has not been elected by the end of a President's term, or if 30 days elapse following a vacancy, some powers are moved to prime minister, some are moved to the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, or to the chairman of the Senate, if parliament is in a state of dissolution at the time of the vacancy.[14]

Electoral procedure

Under Article 58 of the current Czech Constitution, nominees to the office must be put forward by no fewer than 10 Deputies or 10 Senators. Once nominees are in place, a ballot can begin. Each ballot can have at most three rounds. In the first round, a victorious candidate requires an absolute majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Given a 200-seat Chamber and an 81-seat Senate, a successful first round candidate requires 101 deputies and 41 senators.[15]

If no single candidate gets a majority of both the Chamber and the Senate, a second round is then called for. At this stage, a candidate requires an absolute majority of merely those actually present at the time of voting in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The actual number of votes required in the second round might be the same as in the first round, but as in 2008, it can be a little less, due to the absence of a few parliamentarians. Nevertheless, in this second round, a single candidate would need to win a majority in both the Chamber and the Senate.

Should no single candidate achieve a majority of both houses then present, a third round is necessitated. In this final round, which can happen within 14 days of the first round, an absolute majority of deputies and senators present suffices.[16] At this stage, the individual houses of parliament are not considered separately. Assuming that all members of parliament are present, all that is requried to win is 141 votes, regardless of the house of origin. If no candidate wins in the third round, another ballot has to be considered in a subsequent joint session of parliament.[17] The process continues under the same rules until a candidate prevails.

In 1993, the Republic's first president, Václav Havel, had little difficulty achieving victory on the first round of the first ballot, but his re-election bid proved bumpier. In 1998, he inched past the post with a cumulative seven-vote margin on the second round of the first ballot.[18] By contrast, his successor, Václav Klaus, has required the full measure of the process. He narrowly won election on the third ballot in 2003 and on the sixth (second attempt, third ballot) in 2008. Both his elections were won in the third round. His biggest margin of victory was two votes.

Dissatisfaction with procedure

Following the 2003 and 2008 elections, which both required multiple ballots, some in the Czech political community have expressed dissatisfaction with this method of election. In 2008, Martin Bursík, leader of the Czech Green Party, said of the 2008 vote, "We are sitting here in front of the public somewhat muddied by backstage horse-trading, poorly concealed meetings with lobbyists and intrigue."[19] Calls have been made to reform the system into a direct election, whereby the people of the Republic might be involved in the voting. However, others have pointed to the fact that the presidency has always been claimed by indirect vote, stretching back through several predecessor states to the presidency of Tomáš Masaryk. Charles University political scientist Zdeněk Zbořil, for instance, intimated that direct voting could result in a president and prime minister who were hostile to each other's goals, leading to bitter deadlock. Despite the enthusiasm shown by prominent leaders like Jiří Čunek ( Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Party) and Jiří Paroubek (Czech Social Democratic Party), the ruling Civic Democratic Party under both President Václav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is more skeptical. As Topolánek has said, "I definitely consider it a benefit that our presidential elections are not preceded by some campaign that is unavoidable in a direct election and causes rifts among citizens. We recently saw this in Poland, where the presidential elections immediately followed the parliamentary ones. When someone talks about how our method of selecting the head of state is undignified, he should first weigh the consequences of a direct vote.”[20]

Removal from office

Aside from death, there are only three things which can effect a president's removal from office:

  1. A president can resign by notifying the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.[21]
  2. He or she may be deemed unable to execute his duties for "serious reasons" by a joint resolution of the Senate and the Chamber[14] – although the president may appeal to the Constitutional Court have this resolution overturned.[22]
  3. He or she may be impeached by the Senate for high treason, and convicted by the Constitutional Court.[22]

Trappings of office

Heraldry

The office of president carries with it an iconography, established through laws passed by the parliament. Perhaps the most visible of these is the flag of the president, as seen at top right. His official motto is the same as that of the Republic: "Pravda vítězí" ("Truth prevails").

Inasmuch as the president is the titular sole administrator of Prague Castle, the presidency may also be said to control the heraldry of that institution as well, including but not limited to the special designs worn by the castle guard.

Furthermore, the president, whilst in office, is entitled to wear the effects of the highest class of the Republic's two ceremonial orders, the Order of the White Lion and the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order. Along with the right to wear these decorations, the president is deemed to be in charge of the affairs of these orders.[23][24]

Residences

The official residence of the President of the Czech Republic is Prague Castle. However, the living quarters are small and not particularly comfortable, so recent Presidents (Václav Havel and Václav Klaus) have chosen to, in reality, live elsewhere. The last President to reside more or less full time in the residence in the Prague Castle was Gustáv Husák. The President also maintains a summer residence at the castle in the village of Lány, 35 km west of Prague.

List of presidents of the Czech Republic

No. Portrait Name Entered office Left office Political party Term
1 Vaclav Havel IMF.jpg Václav Havel 2 February 1993 2 February 2003 Independent / Non-partisan 1
2
2 Vaclav Klaus headshot.jpg Václav Klaus 7 March 2003 incumbent Civic Democratic Party
Občanská demokratická strana (ODS)
3
4

The Prime Minister and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies served as acting President:

See also

References

  1. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 50
  2. ^ a b c d Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 62
  3. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 17
  4. ^ a b Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 35
  5. ^ a b c Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 63
  6. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 97
  7. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 65 (2)
  8. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 43
  9. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 39
  10. ^ Act 157/1994, The Act on the State Decorations of the CR, Sec 8.
  11. ^ a b Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 55
  12. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 57
  13. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 56
  14. ^ a b Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 66
  15. ^ Boruda, Ondřej. "Presidential Election 2008". The Prague Post. 6 February 2008.
  16. ^ ČeskéNoviny.cz
  17. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 58
  18. ^ "Vaclav Havel gets a second term as president". Agence France Presse. 22 January 1998.
  19. ^ Jůn, Dominik. "No-vote creates election 'fiasco'. The Prague Post. 13 February 2008.
  20. ^ Hulpachová, Markéta. "The future of the electoral process". The Prague Post. 13 February 2008.
  21. ^ Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 61
  22. ^ a b Constitution of the Czech Republic, Art. 87
  23. ^ Annex to Act 157/1994 regarding the Order of the White Lion
  24. ^ Annex to Act 157/1994 regarding the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order

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