August 14, 2019 / 1:56 PM / a month ago

Czech president rejects minister nominee in row with government party

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman on Wednesday rejected the nominee for culture minister proposed by the junior government partners, the Social Democrats, in a dispute that has threatened Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s coalition.

FILE PHOTO: Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Since May the Social Democrats have demanded that Zeman appoint their deputy chairman Michal Smarda, arguing that the president has no constitutional authority to reject him.

But Zeman rejected nominee Michal Smarda as unqualified.

“Mr Smarda was never involved in culture-related matters. For that reason he is not qualified for the position of culture minister,” Zeman said in a statement.

Constitutional experts have said Zeman does not have the right to veto candidates, but the president has repeatedly stretched his powers.

Babis could use his prime ministerial right to challenge Zeman in the Constitutional Court, but he has refused to go into an open conflict with the president.

The ruling coalition of Babis’s ANO and the Social Democrats relies on Zeman’s allies in the Communist Party to secure a majority in parliament.

Social Democrat chief Hamacek repeated Zeman should heed the constitution and appoint Smarda.

“The constitution does not include the possibility that the president should evaluate professional qualifications of ministerial candidates,” he told Reuters via WhatsApp.

“The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy where the prime minister is responsible for the cabinet and chooses his ministers.”

Babis was quoted by Czech Television as saying that he would meet Hamacek to discuss the issue after he returns form holiday later this month.

Zeman has suggested Babis could survive the departure of the Social Democrats from the coalition if he invited the far-right, anti-European and anti-NATO Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) to support the cabinet. Babis has rejected teaming up with the SPD.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Peter Graff and Stephen Powell

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