Czech president to be elected in public vote

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Czech citizens will be able to choose their future presidents after a constitutional change approved by Parliament took the decision on who occupies the largely ceremonial post out of lawmakers' hands.

The Senate, which is controlled by the opposition Social Democrats, voted 49-22 on Wednesday in favor of the change. Parliament's lower house gave its green light in December.

Both the country's presidents since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the late Vaclav Havel and his political archrival Vaclav Klaus, were elected by Parliament.

But bickering among lawmakers during those votes led to calls for the change. Future presidents will be chosen in a popular election that will include a run-off if no candidate achieves a majority in the first round.

The next presidential election will be held in early 2013, when the current, Klaus, must step down after two terms in office. Klaus strictly opposed the change, calling it 'a fatal mistake'.

He has been concerned the race for the five-year post could turn into a contest between celebrities or other public figures instead of politicians.

But supporters of the change said it was a right decision. "I trust the people of the Czech Republic. I trust that voters will responsibly choose the president in the case of popular vote," Social Democrats deputy chairman and Senator Jiri Dienstbier said.

Under the Czech constitution, the president has the power to pick the prime minister, and appoint Constitutional Court judges and members of the Central Bank board.

Otherwise the president has little executive power and the country is run by the government chosen and led by the prime minister.

According to the amendment, a candidate for the presidency has to be proposed by 20 lawmakers from Parliament lower house, 10 senators from the upper house or 50,000 citizens.

So far, only the conservative TOP 09 party, a member of the three-party governing coalition, has declared its official candidate: its chairman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Also, Jan Fischer, who gained significant popularity when he led a caretaker government in 2009-10 as prime minister, has said he would run.

The conservative Civic Democratic Party of Prime Minister Petr Necas is likely to choose from two notable candidates — lower house speaker Miroslava Nemcova and Senate deputy speaker Premysl Sobotka.

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