Constructive vote proposal in Czech Republic

The Czech government is proposing to amend the country’s constitution to make the vote of no-confidence “constructive”:

If the opposition wants to propose a no-confidence vote, it must agree on the name of the future prime minister and have this agreement signed by at least 50 lower house deputies, according to the government’s draft amendment.

If a no-confidence vote fails, the opposition may not propose a new vote sooner than after six months or when 80 deputies support its proposal. (Prague Monitor)

The Czech proposal is more restrictive (constrictive?) than the other two longest-existing provisions for constructive votes. For example, under Article 67 of the German constitution, there is neither a stipulated minimum number of legislators who must propose a no-confidence vote nor a limitation on future motions if a motion fails. In Spain’s constitution, Article 113 requires a minimum one-tenth of the chamber to propose a motion against the government, compared to one-fourth in the Czech proposal. There is in Spain a prohibition on the same signers of a failed motion proposing another one in the same parliamentary session.

While a constructive-vote provision along the lines of Germany’s seems like a good idea to me, I am very skeptical of provisions that make it considerably more difficult for a parliamentary majority to remove a government. The more restrictions there are on parliament’s rights in this area, the more the system shades towards separate survival in power of the executive and legislature–thereby undermining the critical accountability feature that makes a democracy parliamentary.

To pass, the Czech proposal would need support from the leftist opposition, as the government is well short of the necessary three-fifths majority for constitutional changes.

UPDATE: As Robert Elgie notes in a comment, the Czech Republic is already moving to direct election of the president. Thus the country will join Poland in having the unusual combination of both semi-presidentialism and constructive vote of no confidence.

9 thoughts on “Constructive vote proposal in Czech Republic

  1. In light of the fact that non-confidence motion needs to achieve a majority in order to succeed anyway, what is any minimum of signers meant to achieve?

    (If it is to limit the number of motions, surely a limitation on future motions (as in Spain) assures this already)


  2. The idea is to prevent small parties or factions from “harassing” the government with motions. If you have a very fragmented parliament, it might not be too difficult to come up with frequent motions signed by a different group of 1/10 or so members.

    But, in general, I agree with you, JD.

    By the way, the French Fifth Republic also has a provision on minimum number of signers and restricting further motions by the same proposers after one fails. (I wonder if it is the earliest case of these sorts of provisions.) It is not, however, constructive. That is, it does not elect a premier (who in any case must be designated by the president), though the signers must commit to an agreed reason for lack of confidence being expressed. So it has some similarities.


  3. I might add that the Israeli provision is sometimes classified as constructive, but it really is not. All a no-confidence motion does is propose a new PM candidate to the head of state. Passage of the no-confidence measure does not indicate confidence of parliament in this candidate, unlike in Germany, Spain, and Hungary. (I did not include the latter case above, because it is unclear to me whether the provision has been changed under the new constitution.)


  4. Reading through Hungary’s new constitution, it seems somewhat vague and contradictory… maybe you can make sense of it [PDF]

    (see in particular articles 16 and 20-22 under THE STATE)

    [Link fixed by MSS per later comment from JD; I hope to be able to follow this up, but likely not right away.]


  5. As you probably all know anyway, the Czech Republic amended its constitution in March to allow for direct presidential elections next year. I am wondering whether there are any other countries with a directly elected president and a ‘true’ constructive vote of no-confidence.


    • Robert, I did not know that (because clearly I do not keep up with my reading of your blog as I should!).

      Poland either has or had a constructive vote along with the directly elected presidency. Maybe it was only transitional, but I recall there being a way in which a parliamentary majority essentially could bypass the president by simply electing a premier of its choice.


  6. Article 158 of the Polish constitution of 1997 reads, in part:

    The House of Representatives (Sejm) shall pass a vote of noconfidence by a majority of votes of the statutory number of Deputies, on a motion moved by at least 46 Deputies and which shall specify the name of a candidate for Prime Minister. If such a resolution has been passed by the House of Representatives (Sejm), the President of the Republic shall accept the resignation of the Council of Ministers and appoint a new Prime Minister as chosen by the House of Representatives (Sejm)…

    A further provision stipulates that a subsequent motion of no-confidence is inadmissible until three months have lapsed.

    Note that 46 deputies is one tenth of the membership.


  7. The Polish constitution has some paradoxes (not necessarily bad!).

    On the one hand, the president is relatively powerful. For instance, it has a veto that requires three fifths (of a quorum, which is half the membership) to override. The president also has initiative in nominating a premier, who requires an absolute majority to be installed. If the Sejm rejects the president’s choice, however, the Sejm may simply elect its own candidate. If it fails also in that process, then the president gets to try again, and this time his nominee can become premier with only a majority of those voting. If this again fails, then the president must dissolve the Sejm and call elections.

    All of these provisions make the president fairly important–he can strategically select a candidate acceptable to a majority even if not actively supported by one. And he always has the veto to prevent legislation from passing “over his head” (unless 3/5 insist on it).

    Yet at any time, a majority of all members of the Sejm can simply bypass the president and install its choice of premier.

    Despite these provisions being a bit paradoxical, they actually make sense to me: empowering the parliamentary majority, unless it is divided, in which case the agent of the popular majority can assert himself. And the latter agent can only rarely be totally sidelined in policy output.

    In the Czech Republic, on the other hand, the formal powers of the presidency are weaker. For instance, a presidential veto may be overridden by an absolute majority of the Chamber of Deputies. It does appear that the president could exercise discretion over the choice of a premier, however, in the case of deadlock (Art. 68), in that “confidence” of the Chamber appears to mean only a majority of those voting (not a majority of all members).


  8. Robert @5: I checked and it seems that Slovenia is another country with both a directly-elected President and consructive no-confidence votes.


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