Monday, 21 April 2014

Prague protest demands direct democracy, new government

21 January 2013

Prague, Jan 19 (CTK) - Several hundred of people Saturday demanded that the Czech centre-right government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) resign and the political system be changed, demanding more direct democracy.

The so-called Big Assembly protest meeting in Prague's centre called for a direct election of lower house members, mayors and regional governors.

Only members of the upper house (senators) are elected directly. The Czechs will also elect their president for the first time next week. Until now, the two houses of parliament chose the president.

Some of the speakers said a presidential system should be introduced in the Czech Republic, replacing the parliamentary one, and that people should have the power to dismiss politicians in a referendum.

Lower house member Vit Barta (opposition Public Affairs, VV) said direct elections would reduce the "power of godfathers and corrupt parties".

Barta said he apologises for enabling the existence of Necas's government in 2010.

The VV entered parliament in mid-2010 for the first time and it formed a coalition government with the right-wing ODS and TOP 09. A year ago it move to opposition. VV's popularity fell dramatically in the past two years and the party seems to have no chance of defending its parliamentary seats now, opinion polls indicate.

Barta, VV's informal leader and former owner of a security agency, was transport minister but he resigned over a corruption scandal in 2011. A suspended sentence was imposed on him for bribing other former VV MPs into loyalty, but an appeals court concluded last December that Barta committed no crime.

At the protest gathering Saturday, Barta said distraint officers and money lenders profited from Czech laws.

He pointed out that Pilsner beer costs more in the Czech city of Plzen where it is brewed than in Weiden, a German town near the Czech border. This example shows that the Czech system is not working well, he said.

Senator Tomio Okamura (unaffiliated) told the gathered protesters that "a radical change to the political system and introduction of direct democracy" is the only way.

The tourism businessman Okamura gained a seat in the Senate last autumn, clearly winning in his election ward. He is generally considered a populist.

Okamura also ran for Czech president, but the Interior Ministry did not register his candidature late last year, concluding that a significant part of the required signatures supporting his candidature was invalid. The Constitutional Court is dealing with Okamura's complaint against his exclusion from the direct presidential election.

Economist Pavel Kohout said the Czech constitution should be amended and a presidential system similar to that functioning in the United States ought to should be introduced.

Slavek Popelka, one of the organisers of the Big Assembly, said people have the right to change the government and install a new one if the government does not work on their behalf.

"Hundreds of people in this country are living from hand to mouth. They run into debts in order to survive. Those who helped create this situation don't realise that despair may lead to violence," Popelka told CTK.

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