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Opinion: Popular vote and limited powers for Czech president?

The largest opposition party would like to modify the status of the Czech president. ČSSD Chairman Jiří Paroubek thinks some of the president's powers should be circumscribed, but at the same time that the head of state should be elected directly by the voters.

The largest opposition party would like to modify the status of the Czech president. ČSSD Chairman Jiří Paroubek thinks some of the president's powers should be circumscribed, but at the same time that the head of state should be elected directly by the voters. As is often the case with ČSSD's constitutional proposals, this one too is ill-conceived, populist and potentially harmful.

Under the Czech constitution, the president has a more or less ceremonial and symbolic role. But his or her powers are not negligible when compared to other parliamentary democracies: Besides calling elections and appointing cabinets, the Czech president has the right to appoint chairs and judges of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, the president of the Supreme Audit Office and members of the Czech National Bank board. He or she can alleviate or waive a penalty imposed by a court or terminate a prosecution before a verdict is delivered, as well as execute a so-called suspending veto to send legislation he or she does not like back to the Chamber of Deputies.

These constitutional powers do not amount to the powers enjoyed by presidents in presidential or semi-presidential systems such as that of the US or France, but they do allow the Czech president to influence, through appointments, the political situation in the country. In a situation when the government is backed by only a fragile parliamentary majority, the suspending veto, which only a qualified majority of all…

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