Czech lawmakers move to strip ailing President Zeman of power amid constitutional crisis; universal fury batters chief-of-staff

A Czech Senate commission has approved the redistribution of President Milos Zeman’s duties to a number of other top officials. He was rushed to hospital after his ally, Prime Minister Andrej Babis, lost the election.

Zeman remains at the Central Military Hospital and is not capable of exercising his mostly ceremonial functions, according to the speaker of the Czech Senate. His illness came at an inconvenient time, raising questions over the succession of government power. The president is responsible for picking the person who will form the next national government.

On Tuesday, the Senate constitutional committee passed a resolution paving the way to strip Zeman of his power. Since the 77-year-old is expected to take weeks to recuperate, members recommended activating Article 66 of the constitution to redistribute the president’s authority, chairman Zdenek Hraba said in a public address.

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Hraba also lashed out at the head of the president’s chancellorship, Vratislav Mynar, saying he should resign after bringing “disgrace” to the office of the president and the entire country by mismanaging the health crisis.

Calls for Mynar’s resignation had earlier come from Prime Minister Babis and from his likely successor, Petr Fiala. The opposition politician led a coalition of parties to upset the ruling ANO party in this month’s election of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament.

Both chambers will have to adopt resolutions to enact the transfer of presidential power, with a vote in the Senate expected on November 5. The country’s constitutional court may overrule their decision. Mynar earlier described attempts to disempower the president as “hypocritical.”

Zeman has been the president of the Czech Republic since 2013 and was last reelected in 2018. If stripped of power, most of his duties would be redistributed between the outgoing prime minister and the leaders of the two chambers of parliament.

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However, some of these powers, including the authority to pardon convicts and to promote officers to the rank of general, would not be transferred. This means Michal Koudelka, the head of the Czech security service BIS, may get to the end of his current term in office without a corresponding military rank. He was nominated to become a general in 2018, but Zeman repeatedly blocked the promotion, reportedly because of Koudelka’s hostility towards Russia and China.

Babis earlier said he was in no rush to assume part of Zeman’s duties, arguing that he won’t be called to launch formal coalition talks before the new Chamber of Deputies is sworn in sometime in December. If the president is relieved, Babis will be the Czech Republic’s commander-in-chief and will be in charge of ambassadors, awarding state honors, appointing judges, and will have the power to announce an amnesty.

Radek Vondracek, an ANO politician who chairs the Chamber of Deputies, will get most of the remaining presidential powers, including the right to appoint a new government and the right to call an election for the Senate. Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil, who belongs to Fiala’s ODS party, will have the power to announce a new election for the lower chamber of parliament.

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