The Czech Republic

By Simon, Jeffrey | McNair Papers, April 1995 | Go to article overview

The Czech Republic


Simon, Jeffrey, McNair Papers


The Czech National Council passed a resolution assuming responsibility for affairs of the republic on 19 November and adopted a constitution on 16 December 1992 by vote of 172 to 16 with 10 abstentions. Its preamble, in contrast to Slovakia, emphasizes the civil rather than national aspect of citizenship. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament; a 200-member Chamber of Deputies with four-year terms and an 81-member Senate elected for a six-year term (one-third every two years). Since the Czech Parliament rejected the proposal that federal deputies be transferred to the Senate, it remained unoccupied through 1994. Constitutional amendments require a three-fifths majority of all deputies of the Chamber of Deputies and of all members of the Senate present. (1)

The president, as commander-in-chief, is elected by simple majority of both chambers of parliament for a five-year term. The powers of the Czech president, in contrast to the strong CSFR president, are more like the German-model; the president represents symbolic and moral authority. The government is the supreme executive power. Although the president appoints members of government, it is at the suggestion of the prime minister, who determines the government's composition (see Table 11 below). The president appoints the Constitutional Court of 15 judges for ten-year terms with Senate approval. Constitutional amendments require three-fifths of all deputies. (2) On 26 January 1993, 109 (of 200) Parliamentary deputies elected Vaclav Havel the Czech Republic's first president. (3)

Vaclav Havel's actual powers as president of the Czech Republic are much more limited than those he held under the former CSFR Constitution in that he no longer has the right to put forth legislative initiatives. Article 62 outlines his independent powers, which on close examination are quite limited, and Article 63 outlines those powers limited by prime ministerial signature. One potential problem is Article 63(c) which declares the president "supreme commander of the armed forces" but still requires him to get prime ministerial approval for his actions as well as his power to commission and promote generals [Article 63(g)]. (4) In sum, his powers are limited and can be the cause of confusion during an emergency.

Despite the fact that the State Defense Council (ROS) had no legal basis in the Czech Constitution, the President's office initially named members anyway.

[TABLE 11 OMITTED]

These include the prime minister, ministers of finance, foreign affairs, defense, interior, industry and trade, environment, and military officers from the Office of the President, Government, and General Staff. President Havel noted that: "According to Article 63 of the Constitution, the President has the right to exercise legal powers which are not expressly defined in a constitutional law, if the law so stipulates." (5) In March 1993 the Government Office for Legislature and Public Administration declared that the State Defense Council could not exist as a state agency, but it could act as a consultative body to the president. (6) As a result, the State Defense Council no longer exists.

Constitutional politics. In contrast to Slovakia, Czech constitutional politics have been relatively calm. This was, in part, due to the ongoing strength of the ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS) led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus which controlled 105 seats of the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies. (Deputies from the June 1992 Czech National Council were reassigned to the Chamber of Deputies). The Senate, though, was not filled, because of a difference of opinion as to whether Senators from the CSFR Senate should be coopted to fill the body (opposed by the Civic Democratic Alliance (CDA) and failed a vote because it required a two-thirds Chamber of Deputies majority), or abolish the Senate (which was rejected on March 24, 1993). The Chamber of Deputies therefore fulfills the duties of the Senate until that body will be elected (Article 106, Secs. …

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