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Government approves bill on national referendum

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Prague, July 13 (CTK) – A national referendum will be held if at least 250,000 people support its declaration in a petition, according to a draft amendment to the constitution that the Czech government approved yesterday, the government’s spokesman Martin Ayrer has told CTK.
The constitutional bill on a national referendum has been discussed for years in the Czech Republic.
The bill will be sent to parliament that will decide on it now.
The latest version of the general referendum bill has been worked out by Minister for Legislation and Human Rights, Jiri Dienstbier (Social Democrats, CSSD).
Dienstbier presented two versions of the bill to the cabinet, which supported the version that narrows the issues that the referendum may concern to a greater extent. He said this version seemed to have more supporters in parliament.
“A referendum may be held on major affairs of home or foreign politics,” Dienstbier said.
“Criminal proceedings with a particular person and naming or dismissing the president or a cabinet member cannot be voted on in a referendum,” he said.
As a result, citizens would not be able to decide on the fundamental rights and freedoms, the state budget and taxes, the principles of the democratic state, the international obligations of the country, and the individual rights and duties.
Moreover, no bill can be passed by a referendum. The question or questions posed must be unequivocal and the answer may be either No or Yes.
A proposal to hold a referendum needs to be proposed by a petition signed by at least 250,000 citizens aged over 18 within six months. The possible referendum would be declared by the president.
Ombudsman Anna Sabatova proposed that the required number of signatures under the petition be lowered to 100,000.
A referendum would be valid if a majority of voters answered the question negatively or if a majority answered it positively and if at least 25 percent of all the voters took part in the referendum.
A valid referendum would be binding for the government that would have to issue a resolution or submit a bill to parliament, Dienstbier said. Parliament cannot be forced to pass this bill, but the result of the referendum would not make it possible to pass a bill that would go against it, he added.
To be passed by parliament, the constitutional bill needs to win support from at least 60 percent of the lawmakers in each of the two houses of parliament.
The government, comprising the Social Democrats, the ANO movement and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), holds a majority in parliament, but it will need to join forces with at least part of the opposition to push the bill through.
The senior opposition Communists (KSCM) previously supported the bill, as well as the members of the splintered Dawn of Direct Democracy.
The opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) oppose the bill in the long term. Opposition TOP 09 lawmakers expressed reservations about the bill, too.

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