Thursday, 21 September 2017

HN: Senate reminds of bizarre ensemble rather than wise

ČTK |
14 June 2017

Prague, June 13 (CTK) - The Czech Senate, the upper house of parliament, was established in the mid-1990s as a council of the elderly, but it more and more reminds of a bizarre ensemble that neither political parties nor the senators themselves take seriously, Petr Honzejk writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Tuesday.

As a typical symptom contributing to the Senate's poor reputation, he mentions Senator Frantisek Cuba, 81, (Citizens Rights' Party, SPO), who was elected for six years in 2014 but has never appeared in the upper house in the past nine months.

The length of Cuba's absence has beaten all previous record-long absences of other senators, yet he has never gone on a sickness leave and he continues to receive the senator's wage worth 120,000 crowns a month, Honzejk writes.

Cuba is reportedly going to propose "a fair" step to solve the problem of his absence on Wednesday.

When Cuba won the Senate elections 2.5 years ago, his rival in the runoff race said she had lost to "a Yeti." She alluded to the fact that everyone spoke about Cuba but almost no one saw him campaigning before the elections.

At the time, it was evident not only that health reasons will prevent Cuba's regular performance as a senator but also that he does not care about the upper house at all, Honzejk writes.

This is the very core of the problem. The nomination of Cuba by the SPO was an extreme example of how all Czech parties approach Senate elections. To choose candidates, they apply a method that is close to a casting. They simply nominate well-known faces, irrespective of whether the nominees have experience with politics or whether they are willing or able to deal with politics, Honzejk writes.

Sometimes such a candidate really succeeds, as was the case of Cuba, he writes.

The upper house looks accordingly. Its new members often approach their post as a chance to boost their self-confidence or income or even as a post to comfortably spend their old age in. Hence their controversial self-presentation in the Senate, which often amounts to absence, Honzejk writes.

In extreme cases, such senators become "Yetis" similar to Cuba, whose long absence harms the Senate's reputation in the eyes of the public. People are starting to view the Senate as a "reserve of bizarre figures" rather than a body of the wise. Logically, they ask whether such a body is worth preserving and financing, Honzejk writes.

By no means does the problem rest in the fact that an elderly person with health problems holds a political post, he continues, giving the example of Robert Byrd, a long-serving U.S. senator who actively performed the post until his death in 2010 at the age of 92.

Compared with him, Cuba did not conceal it in a media interview that he is not interested in the Czech upper house, that he felt no joy at being elected senator and that he has reservations about democracy as such, because it is not the correct system to "make people work and secure their development," Honzejk writes, citing Cuba.

Cuba is known as a former head of the agricultural cooperative in Slusovice, south Moravia, which applied often disputable breakthrough management methods and was an unprecedented success at the close of the communist era in Czechoslovakia.

Czechs can hardly trust the Senate in a situation where it, and the whole system it represents, is despised even by some senators who openly voice their disdain, Honzejk writes.

There is no simple solution to the situation. Senate chairman Milan Stech is reportedly considering introducing sanctions to punish senators' absence, but such step would be unfortunate and dangerous, Honzejk writes.

Senators are not state employees. They represent voters to whom they are accountable. If sanctions for absence were imposed, it would trigger a debate on what lawmakers are and are not empowered to do. This would introduce order, but democracy would fade out, Honzejk writes.

The only chance of the Senate regaining a good reputation is that the political parties start to take the upper house seriously and nominate the candidates who understand its role and know how to perform their mandate and when the time is to quit, Honzejk concludes.

rtj/t/kva

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