The Supreme Administrative Court on Thursday upheld the validity of a law on direct presidential elections, but found fault with the way that the interior ministry had interpreted one of its articles. Although the ruling is a victory for presidential hopeful Jana Bobošíková, doubts regarding ambiguities in the hastily-drafted legislation remain, with the chairman of the court himself questioning whether the long-awaited popular vote should go ahead.
The ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court was not just expected to decide the fate of three disqualified presidential candidates who claimed to have been wronged by the method according to which the interior ministry calculated the average error rate on their petitions. Six others, who failed to collect the required number of signatures, attacked the law in its entirety claiming it to be ambiguous, misleading and unconstitutional. Justice Vojtěch Šimíček of the Supreme Administrative Court read out Thursday’s verdict:
“As far as the six complaints challenging the law in its entirety are concerned, they have been rejected. The court did not find the law on direct presidential elections unconstitutional. What we did find was that the interior ministry had erred in its interpretation of a given article. In calculating the average number of invalid signatures in support of each candidate, the ministry added up the error rates from selected samples and applied it to the total number of signatures, instead of calculating an average error rate and applying it to all the signatures. We did a recount on the grounds of which the interior ministry has been ordered to include Jana Bobošíková in the list of registered candidates.”
The verdict does not automatically mean that the country’s first direct presidential elections are no longer under threat. The would-be contenders whose complaints were rejected still have the chance to appeal to the constitutional court which, unlike the Supreme Administrative Court would not be obliged to rule within a 15-day deadline. Moreover their decision on whether or not to throw a spanner in the works of the elections could be spurred on by the fact that the ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court was not unanimous. Three judges – including the chairman of the court, Josef Baxa, claim that the election law has serious defects and cast doubt on whether the election should go ahead in the scheduled term.
“Three judges, including myself, were overruled in this matter. The three of us believe that the election law in question is riddled with potential problems and is not fully in line with the constitution. We understand the overwhelming need to press ahead with the elections in their given term, but we feel strongly that the right decision would have been to pass this matter on to the Constitutional Court and propose the abolition of several dubious articles. We feel that the election law is as important as the act of elections itself, otherwise they will be a farce. And this law is a sample of the chronic problems that have plagued Czech legislation in recent years – it is ambiguous, enables dual interpretations, it is full of holes and as lawmakers admit it was put together in great haste.”
Lawyer Klara Samková, one of the six whose complaint against the election law was rejected, has already said she will file a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which is under no obligation to decide within a given time-frame. If the court should fail to rule on her or any other potential complaints in time, the country’s first direct presidential election, scheduled for January 11-12, would have to be postponed. In such a case the country would be temporarily left without a head of state with the president’s powers divided between the prime minister and the speakers of the lower and upper chambers of Parliament.
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