You are here: Home Články / Articles 1999 Constitutional Amendments make little sense

Constitutional Amendments make little sense

A joint commission of the Civic Democratic Part (ODS) and the Social Democrats (CSSD) has prepared a number of new constitutional amendments that the two parties--which between them have a constitutional majority in the parliament-want to approve in a foreseeable future. When the two parties announced a year ago that they will jointly work on amending the Constitution, the argued that they Wanted to do so because the Constitution was imperfect.

Indeed, the Czech Constitution was prepared rather hastily in the second half of 1992, when it became clear that Czechoslovakia will split. The fact the ODS and the CSSD decided to correct inaccuracies or omissions in the Constitution was welcomed. However, most other changes the two parties are proposing are, quite clearly, aimed at reducing the powers of the president and do nothing to improve the quality of the Constitution.

The ODS and the CSSD are arguing, for example, that the constitutional mechanism used in naming a new government after an election is to vague. They are right in that that the Constitution does not, for example, set any time limits for various steps of the president. However, the two parties are not addressing that particular imperfection and are, instead, proposing that the president ask the chairman of the strongest party to form a government.

Until now, the president could appoint a politician of his choice to form a government. After each election since 1990, Havel has always asked the chairman of the victorious party to form a government. The only time he did not do so was in January 1998 when he named Central Bank Governor Josef Tosovsky to head a provisional government following the collapse of the Vaclav Klaus government in December. Havel made an exception at that time simply because it was not possible to form a fully political government following the collapse of the ruling coalition.

The fact the Constitution currently gives the president a free hand in appointing government heads is not without a logic. First, it may be clear immediately after an election that the leader of the victorious party may not be able to form a government. Second, it gives the president a chance to avoid naming the chairman of an extremist party, should such a party win the election. In light of the rising preferences of the communist party, the possibility of an extremist party's victory cannot be excluded

Other planned changes would limit the president's powers to grant pardons or to appoint members of the Central bank board. Once again, those changes will not significantly improve the way in which the Czech political system works. As the Czechoslovak and the Czech President, Havel has not used his right to grant pardons extensively. Limiting the president's power to appoint the Central bank board members comes across as a superficial change, as the next round of new appointments will take place in several years/at a time when the Czech Republic will hopefully be on the way to the European Union and on the way to entering the European monetary union. The role of the Czech Central bank will significantly decrease in such an environment.

Constitutional changes proposed by the ODS and the CSSD seem more to be an act of a political vendetta against the president than a reasonable effort to improve the Constitution. In the end, the only significant amendments may be those that that are being proposed by the Senate. Leaders of the upper chamber of the parliament have made it clear that if the ODS and the CSSD want the Senate to improve their amendments, they have to agree with significantly increasing the powers of the Senate. Such a change is indeed needed, as the weak position of the Senate has contributed to its lack of popularity among the public. If it become more difficult for the lower chamber to pass bills rejected by the Senate, the quality of legislation passed by the parliament may improve.

Reuters - 3. 8. 1999