Palace intrigue swirls around ailing Czech president

Prague (AFP) – With Czech President Milos Zeman still in hospital and apparently unable to exercise his duties, his office staff are now under suspicion with an investigation launched into possible crimes against the republic.


The palace intrigue began when Zeman was rushed to Prague's military hospital on October 10, a day after a general election.

The president was due to moderate the post-election talks and nominate the next prime minister in line with the constitution.

But his hospitalisation, over what local media described as serious liver problems due to his excessive drinking, put that timetable on hold and plunged the country into uncertainty.

Earlier this week, Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil announced that Zeman was "not able to perform his duties" as president, citing a hospital report.

Vystrcil said that Vratislav Mynar, the head of the president's office, had known about this since October 13, but had not told anybody.

Instead, the president's men had insisted the leader was on the mend.

Apricot buns and sausages

A day after Zeman was taken to hospital, his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek called on journalists to be patient and asked for prayers for the president.

The next day, on October 12, he said the president was communicating and following political developments, and quipped that he was being fed apricot buns and sausages.

President Zeman is transported to the military hospital in Prague on October 10
President Zeman is transported to the military hospital in Prague on October 10 Michal Cizek AFP

On October 14, things did appear to be returning to normal when Zeman met parliament speaker Radek Vondracek and signed a decision to summon the new parliament for November 8.

But the hospital later said Vondracek was not authorised to visit the president, while an activist filed a criminal complaint questioning the genuineness of Zeman's signature.

On Monday, Senate speaker Vystrcil finally broke the silence over Zeman's condition citing a hospital report saying his long-term prognosis was "most uncertain".

'Silly questions'

Czech police and intelligence have now launched a probe into steps taken by Mynar, who has refused to step down saying that only Zeman has the authority to dismiss him.

On Tuesday the police tweeted that "considering new information announced at the senate's press conference, Czech Police will launch an investigation into potential unlawful acts showing signs of crime against the republic.

No further details were disclosed.

But experts say the apparently chaotic situation can be resolved if the Senate and lower house of parliament trigger a constitutional article to declare the president incapacitated.

This would pass the president's powers onto the prime minister and the parliament speaker and allow for the formation of a new government -- most likely to be led by the election winner, centre-right alliance chief Petr Fiala.

The two chambers of parliament are set to meet next month.

"There's nothing they can do about Mynar except wait for the activation of Article 66," Otto Eibl, an analyst at Masaryk University in Brno, told AFP.

"As regards the president, he has not really been needed within the constitutional process so there's no problem," he added.

Social networks are meanwhile awash with jokes aimed at the presidential office.

One cartoon depicted two guards outside Prague Castle covered with smoke from overburdened shredders as Zeman aides purportedly destroyed evidence of their wrongdoings.

In a sketch by cartoonist Miroslav Kemel, Zeman's spokesman Ovcacek faces a crowd of journalists outside the hospital.

"Now we're going to pray for your silly questions," he is depicted as saying to thousands of likes on Facebook.