Czech political stalemate continues as president tests positive for Covid | Czech Republic

The post-election stalemate in the Czech Republic has been further prolonged after the country’s president tested positive for Covid-19 and was returned to hospital hours after being discharged after 46 days of treatment for an unrelated condition.

Miloš Zeman was taken to Prague Central Military Hospital on Thursday night, prompting his staff to cancel a meeting on Friday in which he was to appoint Petr Fiala as prime minister, replacing Andrej Babiš, who was not re-elected.

Zeman, 77, who is believed to have chronic liver problems, was reported to have contracted the virus from a presidential staff member who is believed to have been his personal nurse. It is said that he had no symptoms since he recently received a Covid booster jab.

During his long hospital stay, members of Zeman’s staff were pictured meeting him without breathing masks, in violation of the hospital’s Covid rules.

Thursday’s announcement was met with widespread astonishment on social media, with renewed calls for parliament to invoke a constitutional clause that would allow it to declare the president unfit to exercise his powers so a new administration could take office quickly.

In response, Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček announced that the president would be fired again on Saturday, and his long-delayed meeting with Fiala, the leader of a center-right group, Spolu, would take place on Sunday.

Even that meeting at the presidential landscape retreat at Lány Castle will not lead to the immediate oath of the proposed new government, a coalition between Spolu and Pir-STAN, a liberal bloc of parties.

Zeman has insisted on meeting each cabinet nominee in person, a process that is expected to take more than two weeks, and has said he will try to veto at least one minister believed to be Jan Lipavský, the proposed foreign minister. which has promised a hard line with Russia and China – countries with which the president has cultivated close ties.

Zeman’s stance has given rise to accusations of deliberate foot drag at a time when the Czech Republic is struggling to curb a widespread fifth wave of Covid infections. A record 27,717 cases were registered on Thursday, the third time this week, that the daily infection rate had reached a new high. The infection rate of 1,231 per 100,000 people is the highest in Europe after neighboring Slovakia.

“You have this artificial delay,” said Jiří Pehe, a political scientist and director of New York University in Prague, who contrasted Zeman’s hospital meetings with the President of Slovakia, Zuzana Čaputová and Babiš, with an apparent reluctance to meet Fiala.

“If he can meet the Slovak president, he could have met Fiala, and he could also have met the prime ministerial candidates,” Pehe said. “But he did not do so so openly that he dragged his feet. He obstructs when the country is in crisis.”

Zeman was admitted to intensive care on October 10, a day after a surprising defeat for Babiš’s ANO party, which he had promised to support. His condition made him incapable of fulfilling the constitutional role of the president in appointing a new government. Despite two official medical reports declaring him ill to perform his duties fully, Parliament refused to invoke Article 66 of the Constitution, which would have allowed MPs to temporarily take over his powers.

The dead-end halso means that the Babiš administration continues as an interim government, but its authority diminishes as the Covid situation worsens.

As many hospitals are filled up and cancel non-emergency operations, the Babis government declared a state of emergency on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets and an order for pubs and restaurants to close at 6 p.m. However, that has ruled out a further lockdown.

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