Czech president too ill to work, politicians discuss relieving him of duties

Czech President Milos Zeman attends his inauguration ceremony at Prague Castle in Prague in 2018
Czech President Milos Zeman attends his inauguration ceremony at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, March 8, 2018, after being re-elected. REUTERS/David W Cerny
  • Hospital report: president too ill to work now
  • Unlikely to be able to work in coming weeks
  • Upper house initiates debate to transfer duties
  • President due to appoint new prime minister in coming weeks
  • First information on president's health after his office silent

PRAGUE, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman is too ill to work and parliament needs to start discussing when and how to trigger constitutional mechanisms to take away his powers, the head of the assembly's upper house said on Monday.

Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil said Zeman's hospital had informed him it was unlikely the central European country's president, 77, could return to work in the coming weeks - when his duties will include appointing a new government.

Zeman was taken to hospital the day after the Oct. 8-9 election in which his ally, Prime Minister Andrej Babis, lost to a group of opposition parties that won a combined majority in the lower house and is aiming to form a new government.

Speaking to reporters, Vystrcil cited a hospital report he had requested after the presidential office declined to give details of Zeman's condition for more than a week after he was taken to the hospital's intensive care unit.

"In the opinion of the Central Military Hospital, President Milos Zeman is not currently able, due to health reasons, to carry out any work duties," Vystrcil said.

"In the (hospital's) opinion, given the character of President Zeman's underlying illness, the long-term prognosis of his health condition is highly uncertain and thus the possibility of his return to performing work duties in the coming weeks is evaluated as unlikely."

Neither Vystrcil nor the hospital commented on Zeman's exact diagnosis.

The silence from the presidential office has drawn rebukes from most of the political scene, and some including Vystrcil have questioned if the president himself was even aware of what his office was doing. read more

There was no reaction from the president's office.

Czech presidents are directly elected but most executive powers lie with the cabinet. Still, presidents are crucial in power transitions, are supreme commanders of the armed forces and appoint leading personnel including central bank board members and judges.

The constitution allows both houses of parliament to agree and, possibly temporarily, relieve the president of their duties when they are incapacitated, and split them mostly among the prime minister and the speaker of the lower house.

The old lower house's term ends on Thursday, and any vote would be likely taken by the new house which first meets on Nov. 8. The task of appointing the new prime minister would fall to the speaker of the new, opposition-controlled lower house.

Vystrcil said Senate leaders would meet parties elected for the new lower house on Tuesday to discuss next steps.

Stripping Zeman of his powers would possibly make it easier for the opposition to form a cabinet, as Zeman had previously said he would appoint Babis even without a majority.

He could also drag out the process of appointing opposition candidate Petr Fiala, or appoint someone else.

Babis narrowed the field for the president on Friday when he said he would not try to cling on to power and would go into opposition even if offered a new appointment by Zeman. read more

Babis called the hospital report "surprising".

"It is a question whether it is a permanent condition or there is some chance to improve; that I cannot judge," he said.

Fiala said the hospital's report was "very serious".

"It is necessary to find an agreement on the way forward across the political spectrum," he said.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean

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