30th Nov 2021

Czech politics in limbo over Zeman health crisis

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Czech president Miloš Zeman is being stripped of his powers due to bad health, creating post-election limbo in Prague.

A senate committee unanimously voted the measure on Tuesday (19 October) evening after the Central Military Hospital where Zeman was being treated said he was "incapable of fulfilling any of his working responsibilities".

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A plenary vote will now take place in the senate on 5 November and in the lower house on 8 November to formally transfer Zeman's powers to prime minister Andrei Babiš and parliament speaker Radek Vondráček, a Babiš ally, in line with the Czech constitution.

Most of those powers are ceremonial.

But Zeman fell ill just before he was due to name someone to form a government following Czech elections earlier this month, in which Babiš won the most votes, but still lost to a coalition of opposition parties led by Petr Fiala.

The hiatus until parliament meets leaves the country symbolically headless for two weeks.

The fact Babiš, a billionaire with a chequered past, will then be put in charge of unseating himself also posed a threat of dirty tricks.

Babiš has promised to name Fiala, even though Zeman's last comments prior to his hospitalisation were that the largest party, meaning Babiš' ANO party, should first be asked to try to form a ruling coalition.

But in the meantime, revelations about one of Zeman's aides exposed even more chaos at the country's highest political level.

"With regards to the new information ... the police will launch investigation of possible unlawful acts, in which signs of crimes against the republic can be detected," Czech police said on Tuesday, speaking about a Zeman aide, Vratislav Mynář.

Zeman is in intensive care reportedly suffering from a liver complication called hepatic encephalopathy, which impairs cognitive functions.

The hospital had told Mynář that Zeman was unfit to work already on 13 October.

But when Mynář visited Zeman in hospital on 14 October, he left with a document about recalling parliament which bore Zeman's signature, posing the question if Zeman's signature had been forged.

The mess in Prague comes amid wider EU concern about rule of law in several member states, also including Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.

Babiš himself has faced allegations of conflict of interest in getting EU funds for his private business empire.

For his part, Mynář was defiant on Tuesday.

He said only Zeman could dismiss him and fired off tweets about historical crises in Czech sovereignty.

But Babiš signalled his support for due process the same way that he promised to let Fiala, the opposition leader, to take over the reins after parliament finally does meet.

"The whole situation that has arisen here is an inadequate and unacceptable activity on the part of chancellor Mynář ... it would be best if he resigned from his post immediately," Babiš told the iDNES.cz news website.


Why doesn't Babiš get same focus as Hungary and Poland?

In comparison to other EU members, the Czech government has escaped relatively unscathed. The populist governments in Hungary and Poland are facing serious consequences for testing EU tolerance on core democratic values.

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