Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

MPs must be checked and balanced

12. 12. 2005
Some people see most of the evil in this country as emerging either from the left or right, depending on their sympathies. But more deeply troubling is an overly powerful lower chamber.

We now have a dictatorship of the Chamber of Deputies, and their power isn’t adequately balanced by the upper chamber, the Senate.

One recent example: Following the revelation of secret recordings that provided evidence of government corruption in the Unipetrol privatization, MPs passed an amendment to the Criminal Code that forbids such recordings. Anyone using a hidden camera now risks jail time, unless he can prove he didn’t intend to harm the person recorded.

This just shows that most MPs, regardless of their affiliation, feel they are above the law.

The checks and balances of our Constitution don’t work properly. So here are a few well-intentioned proposals to amend the Constitution, should the opportunity ever arise.

Currently, if the Senate sends a bill back to the lower house, MPs can overturn it with a simple majority, the same as in the first vote. A qualified majority isn’t needed. The Senate’s powers should be strengthened so that it’s not so easy for a lower-chamber override.

Even passionate ideologists would approve. After the budget vote, discipline within the governing coalition has weakened. These days the Communists (KSČM) and Social Democrats (ČSSD) vote together. Right-wing parties dominate the upper chamber but can’t muster enough votes in the lower one to stop the wave of “red-pink legislation.”

The lower house has the power to establish investigative committees and question witnesses. In many countries, that power belongs to the upper chamber. The Senate isn’t involved in most economic matters, and is therefore a more independent body to conduct inquiries.

Another problematic issue is Czech MPs’ unlimited parliamentary immunity for life. If an MP (or a former MP) is called before a parliamentary inquiry, he doesn’t worry about perjuring himself like an ordinary person would. It’s crucial to place limits on this privilege.

 

Klaus’ presidential chances

The ČSSD is voting with the Communists more and more often. But KSČM’s real fight should be decided sooner than expected. The political configuration after the June 2006 parliamentary elections will predetermine the presidential vote in January 2008. Václav Klaus was elected via indirect parliamentary vote, with the Civic Democrats (ODS), KSČM and a few unnamed ČSSD “dissidents.” To remain at the Castle, he needs KSČM support.

The ČSSD’s priority is a minority government with KSČM’s silent support. But it needs a president who can cooperate smoothly. If Klaus doesn’t try to block the formation of such a coalition, he’ll be rewarded with one more term. If he opposes the scheme, he can rewrite his role in history books as the man who saved the country from the growing power of the reds. If we end up with a grand coalition of the ČSSD and ODS, the ODS would likely be a weaker partner and that would diminish Klaus’ chances for reelection.

There’s a lot of talk about former ČSSD chairman Miloš Zeman running for president in a new red-pink coalition. But he’s not the only possibility. Current chairman Jiří Paroubek may choose to run himself, leaving the prime minister chair to Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

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