13
The Velvet Divorce –
Institutional Foundations

VÁCLAV ŽÁK


Institutional Foundations for the Break-Up

The Organization of Legislative Bodies in the Federation

In November 1989 Czechoslovakia was a unique, two-member federation. The two-chamber federal parliament had a special structure, consisting of the House of the People, whose members were elected in proportion to the population of the country as a whole (and which therefore had a greater number of deputies from the Czech Republic than from Slovakia); and the House of Nations, which had an equal number of deputies from the Czech and Slovak Republics. The Federal Assembly's rules demanded that important laws were passed by a majority of all deputies in the House of the People and a majority in each of the Czech and Slovak sections of the House of Nations (a three-fifths majority was, moreover, required for constitutional bills).

Given that the House of the People had 150 members and the House of Nations 75 deputies in each of the Czech and Slovak sections,1 30 deputies from one section of the House of Nations were enough to block a constitutional law – that is one-tenth of the total number of deputies! Why did the procedural regulations contain such a provision? From its inception in the occupied Czechoslovakia of 1968, the federation included several confederative elements. The right of veto accorded to deputies representing each of the republics in the House of Nations was one of these. Another even more important constitutional provision was the right to secession that the law on Czechoslovak federation of 1968 guaranteed to both republics.2 It gave a mandate in the Federal Assembly to deputies from the Slovak National Party, whose campaign platform in the elections was division of the state!

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