A president elected by universal suffrage?

Should the President of the Czech Republic be elected by universal suffrage? What would be the effects of such a change on democracy and the country's political scene?

For a more democratic regime

01/15/2013 - 13:52
«The direct ballot for the presidential election in the Czech Republic would be a fatal mistake» - said the current Czech president, Václav Klaus. The sharp debate is about the change from the current indirect vote to a direct vote. Nevertheless, the latter is a necessity for the better functioning of democracy.

Václav Klaus, the current president of the Czech Republic is well-known for his euroscepticism as well as for his position rejecting the theory of the global warming. He was elected in 2003 by the Czech Parliament and his second mandate expires in 2013. In an interview, given to the Česká Televize – the Czech public television – M. Klaus said he would not present his candidature to the elections of 2013. Although the debate of a new presidential candidate hasn’t been started yet, the debate concerning the method of election is heated. In fact, since the independence of the Czech Republic in 1989, the debate, concerning the process of the presidential elections has always divided the deputies as well as the public opinion. 82% of the citizens of the Czech Republic prefer the direct election, although it’s the members of the Parliament and the Senators who should decide. Following the elections in 2011, the hope for the direct election has newly emerged.

The possibility of the direct election is more likely than ever?

The centre-right parliamentary coalition of three parties – ODS, TOP 09, VV -, formed due to the 2010parliamentary elections, has engaged in their campaign to change the Constitution concerning the electoral law in question. In addition, recent obstructions in the Parliament, organised by Bohuslav Sobotka and the ČSSD – Czech Social Democratic Party – reinforce the critics, who denounce the diktat of parliamentarians. On the 16th of June 2011, the MEPs voted one of the three propositions concerning the direct ballot. Thus, the question was whether the Senators would also vote to the two-round elections with absolute majority in the first round. Unfortunately, due to a tense situation in the Senate, the proposition of the Parliament didn’t get the 3/5 majority to adopt the new law, amending the Constitution.


The direct poll is a necessity to the Czech democracy

According to the Czech daily, Neviditelný Pes (Invisible Dog), the separation of powers – a principle in of democratic regimes since antiquity – is violated in the Czech Republic where the Parliament holds all power. The Parliament has the right to decide on the person of the President, the Prime Minister, the heads of different Medias, the Director of the National Bank and judges. It is a mixture of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers within one body: the Parliament.

In addition, the indirect poll is atypical in Europe, since only one quarter of European countries elects their President indirectly. This anomaly is further enhanced since only the members of the Lower House can vote. A similar scenario only exists in Hungary.

The direct election in itself is not more democratic than the indirect one. However, according to international nongovernmental organizations fighting against corruption, the indirect poll prepares the fertile ground for governmental corruption. This is the opinion of Transparency International, emphasizing that the Czech Republic is the 21st most corrupt country in the EU. The Parliament encourages corruption through « buying » the votes at the moment of elections. Therefore it is obvious that Czech deputies do not want to give up their exorbitant power– as a Czech expression says: not to “let other pigs to the trough “.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

Towards a disillusion

01/15/2013 - 13:52
Even the current President of the Czech Republic is against the proposal concerning presidential election through direct voting. Such a constitutional modification - with more inconveniences than advantages – could lead the current regime to decline.

« Fatal mistake » commented Václav Klaus, the current Czech President, on the topic of the possible introduction of direct elections of the future President. On the 14th of December 2011, the Lower House of the Czech Parliament voted the change in the method of electing the President, which would henceforth be elected directly by the people. However, the proposed bill has to be accepted by the Senate. Even though the reform is welcomed by the majority of the citizens, it can bring the regime closer to decline and it has more disadvantages than advantages.

« Repulsive prank »

Given that, according to the opinion polls, 80% of the citizens support the direct election of the President, political parties use that topic to their adavnatge in order to ease the general disgust of citizens towards politics. This is how the legislative procedure to amend the method of election of the President has started.

Paradoxically, politicians –afraid of the voters’ outrage – are silent concerning the fact that such change would be the source of unexpected complications and would require modification of the division of powers and, in general, modification of entire political system. In fact, today we are facing a «reluctant prank » that worries politicians and parliamentarians.

Nonconformity of the political regime with the proposed transformation

We need to highlight that if the method of election would become direct, it would affect the whole political system by redistributing the powers to two different levels. Not only would the Parliament’s current authority pass to the hands of the people but above all, the power of the head of state would change significantly. Since the legitimacy of the mandate would be strengthened his influence would be de facto (and often de jure). As a consequence, he should be held criminally responsible in order to not to abuse of his power. In the context of the current parliamentary system of long tradition, in which the President’ role is basically representative and therefore he is criminally irresponsible – a right guaranteed by the Constitution – such change would be a threat to the cohesion of the regime.

Real pitfalls inseparable from the reform in question

Is the choice of citizens necessarily better? We cannot underestimate the power of the media, the influence of populism as well as the extent of the campaign on the final decision. In addition, to be a candidate, one needs to pay a costly campaign that is not possible without financial support from political parties. Isn’t that a real risk of politicization of the presidential post? Thus, President without a party, desired by the majority of people is still only a naive illusion.

Moreover, it is very likely that a direct election would increase the political tension. In case people vote a president antagonist to the majority of the Parliament – and thus create a so called political cohabitation –, political balance would be really fragile. In addition, in case the President belonged to the parliamentary majority, the diarchy between the head of state and the chief executive of the same party could also easily disturb the political balance.

What outcome is expected?

The principle of proportionality of the Parliament ensures that the presidential elections represent the will of the people. Therefore the Presidents voted so far have enjoyed a great popularity and the trust of the people. What would then be the interest of installing a direct election? People are not tired of the indirectly elected President but of the procedure prior to his election (recall the machinations of 2008). . The current system is not perfect and – of course – needs reforms such as the removal of the possibility of obstruction. However, the modification of the procedure is not to be confused with the modification of the method of election which could anchor an unfavourable status quo on the Czech political scene.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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The state of the votes



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