September 26, 2019 / 7:22 PM / 2 months ago

Czech opposition lawmakers fail in bid to remove president

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech opposition lawmakers have failed in a bid to remove President Milos Zeman from office, after he was accused by the senate or upper house of parliament of abusing the country’s constitution on multiple occasions.

FILE PHOTO: Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and Czech President Milos Zeman listen to their national anthems in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The opposition sought to use a 2013 amendment allowing the Constitutional Court to remove a head of state if after examining a case it finds a “blunt breach of the Constitution”.

Zeman has said he has not abused the constitution.

In the Czech Republic, the president holds a ceremonial office, whereas executive power lies with the government. However the president officially appoints ministers put forward by the prime minister and has the power to order or prevent state attorneys from launching investigations.

Opponents accuse Zeman of stretching the limits of his office, interfering in the government’s personnel and in judicial affairs.

The Senate-backed motion to have the court consider Zeman’s position was defeated in the lower house after the ruling ANO and Social Democrat parties, along with the Communists, who prop up Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority government, and the far-right SPD party rejected it.

“The president acts in accordance with the constitution. The so-called complaint of the Senate is a mere political attack and a legal manoeuver,” the president’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said.

Senator Vaclav Laska, one of those behind the proposal said, “the president is trying to reach a state where the government will not be controlled by this chamber, but it will completely depend on the president’s will.”

“The powers usurped by the president are your powers,” he told lawmakers.

Laska and other senators who completed the bill in April were prompted by what they said were attempts by the president to influence court cases.

Zeman’s rejection of some ministerial nominees also stirred anger. A few months ago he refused to appoint a new culture minister nominated by the Social Democrats - his former party, which he broke with more than a decade ago.

Zeman’s office said he did not immediately need to make the appointment. After several months, the Social Democrats put forward a new name.

Recently, Zeman said he would use his constitutional power to stop any renewal of a criminal case against Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman before he entered politics and who is the country’s second richest man.

Prague’s state attorney this month halted an investigation into allegations Babis had hidden his ownership of a convention center over a decade ago to get European Union subsidies meant for small businesses.

Babis has denied wrongdoing. The supreme attorney may still override the decision to halt the case. Zeman said last week that should that happen, he would use his legal power to halt the case for good, drawing fierce criticism.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and Alexandra Hudson

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