Political battle possible if president rejects cabinet nominees

Though the ink is long dry on a coalition deal and cabinet posts agreed on by the three parties concerned, the path to a new Czech government remains unclear. There has been speculation that the president may reject some ministerial candidates – and could even try to force the nascent coalition to accept some of his own nominees.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip JandourekMiloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek Thursday marks the 75th day since Czechs went to the polls to elect a new government – making it the longest post-election period in the history of the Czech Republic without the appointment of a prime minister.

The main stumbling block to progress appears to be President Miloš Zeman. He is due to speak to the media on Friday directly before a meeting at which Bohuslav Sobotka will call on the head of state to make him prime minister forthwith.

There has been speculation that Mr. Zeman will outline his objections to some ministerial candidates put forward by Mr. Sobotka’s Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats. But he may have more in mind than rejecting nominees he says are “unqualified”.

Lidové noviny on Thursday reported that the president plans to try to force the nascent government to accept his people to ministerial and deputy ministerial posts, creating an effective “four-party coalition”. That would be completely anathema to Mr. Sobotka and his allies.

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip JandourekBohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek Political scientist Jiří Pehe says the likelihood of Mr. Zeman getting his way depends not on just the coalition allies but all parties in Parliament. But he questions whether they have the skills to match the president, a noted strategist.

“He realises just by voicing his demands, just by proposing that he would like to have his own people in the government or by postponing the appointment of the prime minister, he is creating a degree of nervousness among the party leaders. And in the end they may decide to make concessions to Mr. Zeman, and I think that this is what he is counting on. Otherwise he would have named a new government a few days ago.”

This situation has come about partly because the loosely worded Czech Constitution does not set a deadline for the president to appoint a new government after elections.

Indeed we could be set for an unprecedented legal battle in the Constitutional Court, if Mr. Zeman does reject ministerial candidates and the coalition partners refuse to accept his demands.

Commentator Erik Best says the reports that the president wants his own men in government are so far unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, he questions the aims of Mr. Zeman, who he describes as isolated.

“I don’t think Mr. Zeman can win this. So far the foreign media haven’t paid much attention to it, but if the foreign media start getting a whiff of obstruction of constitutional, democratic practices, then that’s going to be another negative against Mr. Zeman. It’s an unusual situation and we must ask why he is continuing. Given the situation, there is not really any logical answer, because it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

The president’s position will become clearer on Friday. But if he does after all go into battle with the would-be government, there will no doubt be interesting times ahead.