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This question is the opposite of Why do we hear so little about the German President?

In theory, the Czech President is mostly a figurehead as Czechia is a Parliamentary Republic where the Prime Minister holds the real power. However in the past few weeks there have been quite a few news articles about the Presidential elections, on a scale I don't recall seeing during figurehead elections in other states. Why do people care at all, given that the President is not supposed to do much beyond shaking hands, posing for photos and rubber stamping laws passed by the Parliament?

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    My pithy instinctual response is that this is a feature and not a bug. In other words, part of the purpose of the job is to draw attention towards an uncontroversial person with only a little power and away from the people with real power in order to increase national unity.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 22:14
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    Somestimes it's just a feature of news cycle. When there is not much going on, what would usually be one-day news becomes a week-long news. If there is major development in Ukraine, I doubt the Czech President can dominate the conversation this long. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 3:38

4 Answers 4

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tldr; The Czech president is not a figurehead.

He has real political power. Without approval from the government, he can appoint the heads of some agencies. He can dissolve parliament. With the approval of the government, he can negotiate international treaties and command the armed forces. He can speak at will in parliament and has the right to attend cabinet meetings. Subject to approval by the Senate, he can appoint Supreme Court judges.

What is not that uncommon, compared to other EU countries is his right to appoint the prime minister. It is checked by the obligatory vote of confidence the government has to pass in parliament - a procedure for example matched in Italy.

The details

Since everyone answering so far has only referred to secondary sources, let me quote the Czech constitution itself. Wikisource helpfully has an English translation. These are the responsibilities of the president:

Article 62 lists what the president can do without further approval from the government:

President of the Republic shall
a) appoint and recall the Prime Minister and other members of the Government and accept their resignation, recall the Government and accept its resignation;
b) convene sessions of the Chamber of Deputies;
c) dissolve the Chamber of Deputies;
d) authorize the Government the resignation of which the President has accepted or which he has recalled to execute their office temporarily until a new Government is appointed;
e) appoint Justices of the Constitutional Court, its Chief Justice and Assistant Chief Justices;
f) appoint from among the Justices of the Supreme Court the Chief Justice and Assistant Chief Justices of the Supreme Court;
g) pardon and mitigate penalties imposed by the court and expunge sentences;
h) have the right to return to the Parliament an enacted law with the exception of Constitutional Acts;
i) sign enacted laws;
j) appoint the President and the Vice-President of the Supreme Control Office;
k) appoint members of the Bank Board of the Czech National Bank.

Article 63 lists what the president can do if countersigned by the government:

(1) President of the Republic shall furthermore
a) represent the State with respect to other countries;
b) negotiate and ratify international treaties; he may delegate the negotiation of international treaties to the Government or, subject to the Government consent, to its individual members;
c) be the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces;
d) receive heads of diplomatic missions;
e) appoint and recalls heads of diplomatic missions;
f) call elections to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate;
g) appoint and promote generals;
h) confer and award state decorations, unless he authorizes other body to do so;
i) appoint judges;
j) order not to initiate criminal proceedings and suspend them if they are already initiated; and
k) have the right to grant amnesty.

(2) President of the Republic shall be also entitled to exercise powers not explicitly defined in the Constitutional Act, if the law provides so.

(3) Decisions made by the President of the Republic pursuant to the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 shall be valid only if countersigned by the Prime Minister or by a member of the Government so authorized by the Prime Minister.

(4) Responsibility for a decision made by the President of the Republic, which must be countersigned by the Prime Minister or a member of the Government authorized by him, shall be borne by the Government.

Article 64 gives the president the right to take part in discussions of the government and the parliament:

(1) President of the Republic has the right to attend meetings of both the Chambers of the Parliament, their Committees and Commissions. He shall be given the floor whenever he asks for it.

(2) President of the Republic has the right to attend meetings of the Government, to ask for reports from the Government and its members, and to discuss with the Government or its members the issues that are in their competence.

Article 68 details the way the memebers of government are choosen:

(1) The Government shall be accountable to the Chamber of Deputies.

(2) The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President of the Republic who shall appoint on the Prime Minister's proposal the other members of the Government and shall entrust them with the direction of individual ministries or other agencies.

(3) Within thirty days after its appointment the Government shall present itself to the Chamber of Deputies and shall ask it for a vote of confidence.

(4) If a newly appointed Government fails to win the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies, the procedure specified in paragraphs 2 and 3 shall be followed. If a thus appointed Government again fails to win the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies, the President of the Republic shall appoint a Prime Minister on the proposal of the Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies.

(5) In other cases the President of the Republic shall appoint and recall on the proposal of the Prime Minister the other members of the Government and shall entrust them with the direction of ministries or other agencies.

There are some more provisions following for cases where the government does not win a vote of confidence, the prime minister wants to sack a minster, a minister resigns or comparable cases. They all go through the President, but either he has to follow the proposal of the prime minister, or he is legally required to act one way or the other.

Article 84 describes the appointment of judges for the constitutional court:

(2) Justices of the Constitutional Court shall be appointed by the President of the Republic and shall be confirmed by the Senate.

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Well, I read that

The president has appointment powers over senior judges and judicial figures, including to the country’s highest court.

That sounds more than figurehead, if correct.

Checking out Wikipedia, the presidency also has unilateral pardon powers, it seems, which Zeman's predecessor Vaclav Klaus exercised rather liberally in his final days, drawing some criticism (including from their Supreme Court, interestingly enough).

And, of course, the Western press might pay more attention to that part of Europe nowadays; war nearby and all that. But if I google "Zeman re-elected" I get plenty hits too (that was 5 years ago) from the major news sources: Euronews, Reuters, BBC, CNN, etc. are all the first page for me. NYT and The Guardian also covered Zeman's re-election. Fox News had no less than 3 pages/articles about that, albeit they are [each] somewhat brief.

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    More importantly they appoint the prime minister which gives them a lot of power.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 16:55
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    Definitely a lot of the reason, but on a different level, it's also a bit more high profile outside Czechia because it's been held by well-known people like playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel, and by Vaclav Klaus who was well known for serving as Czech PM at a crucial time. That might reflect why foreign news sources are more interested than in other Central European presidencies where the office-holders are lower-profile or less distinguished.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 21:15
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    @StuartF It apparently was Vaclav Havel (aided immensely by his popularity) who raised the post to well beyond the figurehead-level position that the Czech presidency was originally intended when Czech leaders drafted their constitution. Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 23:28
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    War nearby, but also the overall Central European conflict between pro-Western and Orbanesque politics, which was very well represented in this election by Pavel and Babiš respectively. Even elections that are meaningless in terms of real power can garner interest as indicators of political sentiment of the populace. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 1:20
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    @MaciejStachowski: well, that's what I meant by war. I mean, look what's happening in Croatia, where the presidency is also similarly not terribly powerful, but the president is making international news whenever he says something about Russia going to win, annoying the (pro Western) government. apnews.com/article/… Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 9:31
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As a Czech citizen I feel like all the answers are wrong since the assumption in the question is also wrong.

While the president does hold some power, the media attention is not because of that. It is mostly because of the cadidates in the final round - Andrej Babiš and Petr Pavel.

Here is a quick summary: Both were in the communist party. Babiš was also a member/agent in the StB (Státní bezpečnost) - sort of a secret police, to keep it short. They were a middle layer between the normal police and army. He continuosly denies that allegation, even though he has been convicted by the Slovakian jurisdiction of being a member. All the trials in Czech Rep. ended without a winner. Babiš keeps presenting this as his win and proof that he was not part of StB. Petr Pavel was in the army, studying to be become an Intelligence agent - gathering information and all that stuff. He started his studies while communism was in power, finished them after the fall of communism.

After the fall of communism, their paths go very different directions.

Babiš becomes a bussinesman, building an agricultural empire with his "friends" - ex-StB members. His expansion techniques are considered immoral - sometimes borderline illegal. (there is one amazing document about it, I do not know if it has english subtitles) He owns majority of agriculture in Czech Rep. and around 30% of the media. He is currently being investigated in France because of money laundering (not 100% sure right now, but it is money related). Recently a trial ended because of his EU fund fraud for his hotel Čapí Hnízdo. He did not go to jail. But the trial proved that he was lying about the ownership of said hotel and many more lies. He was the Prime Minister of Czech Rep. and now he is the leader of ANO political party (biggest party here right now).

Petr Pavel on the other hand helped build up democracy here. Leading a mission that saved over 50 French soldiers during the war in Yugoslavia got him the highest French medal and the Czech highest medal. He also holds the highest medal from USA a foreigner can hold. I amm sure he has many more other medals but I am sure you can find that on your own. He was the general of Czech army. Worked for the Ministry of defense in a very high position. He was in the 2nd highest position in NATO. He also went on many diplomatic missions when he worked in NATO. Lots of diplomacy and leadership experience.

So now you have two ex-communist party members going against each other for the highest position of power in Czech Republic. One keeps lying about his past, lying about other things, stealing and multiplying his wealth. A man that is not affraid of using his money and power to get what he wants. The other represents what democracy stands for. Truth, helping others, keeping good relations between nations, reason.

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  • +1 As someone unfamiliar with Czech politics: If the contrast in ethics/position/popularity is so clear, what were the reasons that Pavel's win was "only" 58% rather than an outright landslide? Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 22:40
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    It is not "only" 58%, previous elections were always much closer, with the winner getting "only" about 200 000 more votes - for example previous elections Zeman with 2 850 000 votes vs Drahoš with 2 700 000 votes. This election Pavel got 3,3 million votes and the difference was about 900 000 votes. For the reasons Babiš gets so many votes: As Prime Minister he pushed for a package of 5000Kč (about 230$) to be given to retired seniors) - which made them loyal to Babiš. Also his campaign was full of lies and propaganda which many people believed. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 6:10
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    And if anyone wonders what manipulation and lies Babiš pushed in his campaign - he pushed the narrative that having a general as president would pull us into the war with Russia (even though the president holds no such power). Another lie he said was that Pavel is the most succesful KGB trained spy, because he managed to get into NATO. Sadly many people that are either too lazy or too stupid to fact check on their own believed it. Babiš is an expert at twisting facts. But it seems like his days in politics are slowly coming to an end. Thank God. Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 6:20
  • @TheSimpliFire because one person owns 30% of all media in the country and is affiliated with the larger party?
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 9:56
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    While the general gist of the answer is definitely correct it is extremely biased pro Pavel and against Babis. As much as I dislike Babis, Pavel is quite definitely very far from the saint he's being made out to be in this answer. The main correct point is that Pavel is quite definitely vehemently pro-western and pro Ukraine support of essentially any kind. Whereas Babis is a weasly politician and weasly bussinessman that is extremely pragmatic and populist. I'd say he's anti-EU but really he's just using whatever he can for his ends.
    – DRF
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 13:05
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Because the president is responsible for appointing the prime minister as well as other high ranking officials.

President of the Czech Republic

As you said a lot of it is ceremonial however that is not all that the job does.

The president of the Czech Republic is the head of state of the Czech Republic and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic.[2] The president mostly has ceremonial powers as the day-to-day business of the executive government is entrusted to the prime minister, and since many of the president's actions require prime ministerial approval the ultimate responsibility for the president's conduct lies with the government.

Here it lists what the presidents power is and having the ability to appoint those positions is a lot of power.

However, the president is solely responsible for appointing the prime minister, the Cabinet ministers, as well as the members of the Board of the Czech National Bank, and nominating justices to the Constitutional Court, who are subject to Senate approval, among others.

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    But they can’t appoint the Prime Minister at will right? They can only appoint someone who will get 50% of the votes in parliament, which is usually the head of the biggest party in the latest elections. Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 17:12
  • @JonathanReez I am not sure on the details but the wiki article clearly shows that they still have a lot of power in appointing not only the prime minister but a lot of other important positions. It is not just a figurehead as you suggest in the question
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 17:15
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    @JoeW Wikipedia conflicts with itself. The article on the Czech President says the President gets to appoint the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers, while the article on the Czech Prime Minister says it's the Prime Minister who appoints Cabinet Ministers. Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 21:13
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    The president appoints a person as the PM, and that person then has some time (30 days IIRC) to get majority support in the chamber of deputies. If they fail, the president appoints someone again (possibly the same person). If they fail again, the president appoints a person chosen by the chairman (not sure of the translation) of the chamber of deputies. So it's not like the president gets to choose whoever. Likewise, the cabinet ministers are appointed by the president, but only based on a nomination by the PM. There was quite a bit of controversy when Zeman refused to appoint...
    – Tomeamis
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 8:31
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    ... a cabinet minister nominated by the PM, as it waas seen as overreach on his part. Source: I'm Czech, these things got quite a bit of news attention when relevant.
    – Tomeamis
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 8:32

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