PRAGUE (Reuters) - The upper house of the Czech parliament impeached outgoing President Vaclav Klaus for treason on Monday, a dramatic but largely symbolic act that nevertheless shows just how deeply the eurosceptic leader angered his left-wing opponents.
The decision by the Senate, dominated by the left, refers the president to the Constitutional Court which will rule on whether he violated the constitution by granting an amnesty to more than 6,000 prisoners serving short jail terms, as well as for other acts.
The upper house voted 38 to 30 in a closed session to bring charges against the president.
The biggest punishment he faces, if found guilty, is losing office, his presidential pension and the right to stand again in future. That is mild given Klaus’s second and final consecutive term runs out on Thursday.
But it would be a blow to the legacy of the right-wing economist who has proved self-conscious about his image, especially compared to the reverence enjoyed by his late predecessor Vaclav Havel.
The treason article of the constitution is only applied to presidents, who cannot be prosecuted in any other way for their actions in office. It has never been used before in modern Czech history.
The court is expected to hear the case in the coming weeks.
The amnesty angered most Czechs because it ended the prosecution of many people investigated for economic crimes such as embezzlement, a sore point in a country where corruption and fraud has topped political debate for years.
Klaus rejected accusations he deliberately formulated the amnesty to let serious criminals go.
The senators also accuse Klaus of flouting the constitution by refusing to ratify European Union treaties, and for declining to rule on the appointment of judges despite being ordered by the courts to do so. In total, the charges include five counts of alleged misbehavior.
One charge by the Senate is that Klaus refused altogether to ratify a plan to set up the ESM bailout fund for euro zone countries, despite the plan being ratified by parliament. That decision, however, did not stop the fund from being created.
“The Senate met its task of protecting the constitution by approving the suit,” said Senator Jiri Dienstbier who was one of the initiators of the impeachment.
“I am glad that the independent Constitutional Court will have the opportunity to consider how deeply the constitution was violated.”
A spokesman for Klaus said he did not know if the president would react to the decision. He said last week the impeachment drive was a political ploy.
“It is sad that some people from our political opposition are using the threat of the constitutional court to deal with their political disagreement,” he said.
While the damage to Klaus’s image will bring satisfaction to many adversaries, even some of Klaus’s opponents said a treason charge was going too far, as did some lawyers.
“The result of a Senate suit would be mainly an inflationary usage of the exceptional constitutional concept of treason,” law professor Jiri Priban wrote in a newspaper article on Monday.
Klaus will be succeeded by former prime minister, the leftist Milos Zeman, on Friday.
The presidential post does not carry much day-to-day executive power, but Zeman will have the right to appoint judges and the leadership of the central bank, and have the power to veto legislation.
Klaus, 71, has said he would devote time to his right-wing think-tank, but also hinted he may seek another political post, possibly even in the European Parliament.
Additional reporting by Jan Korselt; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Jon Hemming