The outgoing Czech president has been accused of treason

5. 3. 2013 / Daniel Řezníček

On 4th March 2013, the outgoing Czech president Václav Klaus was accused of treason by the upper house of Czech parliament. In the 81-seat chamber, 38 senators voted for the impeachment, while 30 voted against. The charge will be dealt with by the Constitutional Court.

The exact translation of the reason for the charge into English is rather problematic. In the Czech legal system, there are two similar terms: vlastizrada (betrayal of one's country) and velezrada (literally, a major betrayal). Mr Klaus was charged with the latter one. Vlastizrada is a criminal offence conducted by a Czech citizen such as the subversion of the republican order, terrorist attack, or sabotage. On the other hand, the less well-known velezrada is a specific constitutional offence conducted by the president of the Czech Republic. Even among Czech politicians, there has been a certain confusion and lack of clarity about these terms in the days preceding the charge.

In the Czech legal system, only the Senate can accuse a president with treason. On 26th February, it was announced that the required number of senators (27; 1/3 of the house) had signed the draft charge. In the end, there were 28 signatures. Thus, a plenum was summoned for 4th March with the house voting on whether to pass the draft on to the Constitutional Court. The voting was secret to the public.

The charge lists five occasions on which Mr Klaus has allegedly violated the Czech Constitution. Among these is the president's persistent unwillingness to sign the Lisbon Treaty, his hesitancy in appointing constitutional judges and, last but not least, the widely unpopular New Year amnesty which halted the prosecution of many cases of serious corruption and fraud. According to Jiří Dienstbier, a senator for the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the initiator of the charge, the amnesty was the `final straw'. Indeed, the amnesty is widely seen as the major reason behind the charge and has been presented by the Czech media as such.

Apart from Mr Dienstbier who is, according to the polls, the most popular and trustworthy politician in the country, the authorship of the draft has been associated mostly with his fellow members of ČSSD which is currently the leading opposition party, however, holding a plurality in the Senate. Nonetheless, the house was rather divided over the charge. Not all the Social Democrats signed the draft and voted for it and within most of the Senate's factions, there were senators who were both voted for the charge and against it. The only exception was the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), whose senators unanimously declared against the charge.

ODS is a party founded by Mr Klaus himself 1991 and is currently the leading party in the coalition government. Most of the government's leading figures criticized the Senate's decision. The Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) said the charge was an act of revengefulness. He also said it would damage Czech Republic's reputation abroad. This belief is shared by the ex-Minister of Justice Jiří Pospíšil (ODS) and the Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09). Boris Šťastný, an MP for ODS who is known for being politically close to the incumbent president labelled Mr Dienstbier as a `sociopath and cretin'. According to Mr Kubera, the head of ODS senators, the charge seeks to tarnish the president's reputation and is `beyond decency'. The impending president, Miloš Zeman, who is a critic of Mr Klaus's amnesty, also criticized the act for being `hysterical' and its reason not matching the seriousness of the institute of treason.

On the other hand, ČSSD chairman, Bohuslav Sobotka, appreciated that the Senate had acted in accordance with its constitutional responsibility by enacting the principle of checks and balances. It also seems justifiable to say that the charge will be quite popular with the people as the Czech population is in general outraged by the amnesty and frustrated by the indefatigability of politicians. Mr Klaus's second term finishes on 7th March but the Constitutional Court will not have assessed the charge until the end of March. Therefore, it is mostly seen as a symbolic act emphasising the importance of adhering to the country's constitutional order. The impeachment is Czech Republic's first one to date.


Obsah vydání | Sobota 10.12. 2016