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Czech president taps opposition leader for government talks

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By Reuters
Czech Senate drops plan to strip president of powers as his health improves
Czech Senate drops plan to strip president of powers as his health improves   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

PRAGUE -Czech President Milos Zeman has asked opposition leader Petr Fiala to lead talks on forming a new government, the presidential office said on Tuesday, a next step in a handover of power to centre-right parties.

Fiala leads a coalition of five parties which together won the majority of votes in an Oct. 8-9 lower house election.

However, uncertainty has hung over talks on the formation of a new government as Zeman, 77, has been hospitalised since Oct. 10. He only addressed the election in a radio interview at the end of last week.

Despite asking Fiala to lead the talks, Zeman is still probably a few weeks away from formally nominating him as prime minister-designate.

With Zeman in hospital, lawmakers had discussed invoking Article 66 of the constitution to strip him of his powers if he were unable to appoint a new government to replace Prime Minister Andrej Babis, whose party narrowly lost the election.

But senators in the upper house on Tuesday abandoned plans to invoke the never-used rule after signs that the president was well enough to discharge his duties.

In his first public remarks since the election, Zeman had said in a radio interview last Friday that he expected to name Fiala as prime minister.

The five parties – ranging from the mildly eurosceptic Civic Democrats led by Fiala to the progressive Pirate Party -already signed a coalition agreement on Monday, pledging to cut the budget deficit, among other promises. Fiala is putting together a list of ministerial nominations.

Authorities have not disclosed details about Zeman’s illness, but one of his doctors said last week he was suffering from liver disease.

Zeman’s medical team said on Friday his condition had improved, but he still cannot fully perform his job and would need to remain in hospital, possibly for several more weeks.

Zdenek Hraba, chairman of the Senate committee dealing with the constitution and parliamentary procedure, said on Tuesday the upper house could still decide to revoke Zeman’s powers if his medical team says he is incapacitated and this is confirmed in a subsequent examination.