Chamber votes no on direct election - ODS, CSSD reject proposal for popular election of president

11-12 2001 Aktuality English
obálka čísla By Michael Mainville STAFF WRITER

    The Chamber of Deputies has rejected a proposal for Czechs to directly elect the country's president, despite overwhelming public support for the idea
    In a Dec. 4 vote, deputies from the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) voted against the idea.
    Deputies from the Quad Coalition's Freedom Union (US) and Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL), who submitted the proposal as a draft amendment to the Constitution, favored the idea, along with a smattering of deputies from other parties.
    KDU-CSL leader Cyril Svoboda, who drafted the amendment, said the rejection reflected disrespect for the public will.
    "The political parties who voted against this proposal only wanted to keep all the power in their own hands," he said. "The vast majority of the public is in favor of this idea and there is no real argument against changing the law."
    Opinion polls regularly show that the idea of directly electing the president is supported by more than 80 percent of Czechs --- and that support cuts across political, age and social divisions.
    Currently, the president is elected to a five-year term by a joint session of Parliament.
    The bill would have allowed anyone to run for president by collecting 20,000 signatures on a petition. The president would then have been elected in a national vote, with a second-ballot face-off between the top two candidates if none won an absolute majority. The bill's opponents say they rejected it because it was a populist proposal that had not been thought out.
    "They were not addressing real problems in the Constitution --- it looks like more like a trick before the next election," ODS Deputy Jiri Payne said.
    Payne said that the country's head of state has been elected by a representative chamber for centuries and that any change in that tradition should carry with it constitutional reforms to presidential powers and responsibilities.
    CSSD deputy chairman Zdenek Skromach said his party "quite likes" the idea of direct presidential elections and would support a more comprehensive package of constitutional reforms.

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