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President formally rejects Čentéš for top prosecutor job
3 Jan 2013 Beata Balogová Politics & Society
PRESIDENT Ivan Gašparovič will not appoint Jozef Čentéš to be Slovakia's next general prosecutor, despite parliament voting to select him for the post on June 7, 2011, and the Constitutional Court subsequently confirming the legitimacy of the parliamentary ballot by which he was chosen. Gašparovič sent a letter explaining his decision to the speaker of parliament, Pavol Paška. Čentéš said that he would challenge the president's decision at the Constitutional Court, adding that the president had failed to list any legitimate reasons for his refusal to appoint him, the SITA newswire reported.
While opposition parties called Gašparovič's decision a 'slap in the face for democracy', Prime Minister Robert Fico said in his first reaction that "in selecting a new candidate for the post of general prosecutor we want to avoid all the mistakes that emerged during the process of electing J. Čentéš", according to a statement released by his office on January 2.
The term of the last general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February 2011. Čentéš was elected by MPs in June of the same year, but Gašparovič refused to appoint him. Trnka's former deputy, Ladislav Tichý, is currently the acting general prosecutor, with Trnka, who was one of the candidates competing with Čentéš for the top job, now working as Tichý's unelected deputy.
In his 9-page letter Gašparovič describes all four rounds of the last general-prosecutor selection process, which began in the autumn of 2010 and ended with Čentéš' election, and quotes statements that politicians made on the subject. The president notes that the process of selecting a new general prosecutor resulted in several complaints being filed with the Constitutional Court, SITA reported.
"The number and the character of these complaints alone, as well the status of their authors bring enough evidence that the election of the candidate has not been unambiguous and that it has become a subject of political dispute," Gašparovič writes in his letter.
According to Gašparovič, a candidate elected under such circumstances becomes untrustworthy regardless of the person in question. The president asserts that the fact that Čentéš accepted the candidacy under such circumstances in itself makes him untrustworthy. Moreover, the president suggests that Čentéš himself actively took part in what he calls "these political games" while noting that "first when the [then] ruling coalition rejected the secret ballot, Jozef Čentéš withdrew his candidacy, arguing that the secret ballot was marked by corruption and that he wanted to take part in a public ballot only, but in contradiction to this statement he participated in the next secret ballot, which suited the ruling coalition".
Gašparovič also accuses Čentéš of publicly "slandering the president" (i.e. Gašparovič) via the public media, saying that Čentéš blamed him for violating the constitution by not appointing him. The president also refers to an incident involving MP Igor Matovič, then of the Ordinary People faction. Matovič had to testify twice at the prosecutor's office in a case overseen by Čentéš because the record of his first testimony was deleted from the office computer and the hard copy was shredded. Čentéš said that the shredding of the document was a human error. However, Gašparovič in his letter says that Čentéš did not "display enough responsibility" during the shredding incident.
Čentéš has rejected all of the personal accusations made against him, and argued that during his time working at the Office of the General Prosecutor he has faced neither disciplinary proceedings nor criminal prosecution, and that neither his colleagues nor his superiors have ever questioned his professional qualities, SITA reported.
The opposition parties have been extremely critical of the president's refusal to appoint Čentéš. His election occurred while the parties were in government, between 2010 and 2012.
Igor Matovič, now the leader of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), the largest opposition grouping in parliament, said that Gašparovič had, by means of his decision, reserved the post of general prosecutor for a nominee of the ruling Smer party. Moreover, Matovič asserted, the president merely confirmed that he feels like a member of Smer, SITA wrote.
The leader of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Pavol Frešo, described Gašparovič's decision as "indefensible".
"To base the decision on such trivialities as the interviews of politicians in the media represents doubt being cast over democracy to a certain extent ... I expected to see some really serious reasons as to why we had to wait a year and half," Frešo stressed, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
The Constitutional Court on October 24, 2012, ruled that the president of Slovakia must “deal with” a proposal of parliament to appoint a new general prosecutor based on the 150th article of the Slovak constitution, and that if the candidate was elected in accordance with the law the president must either appoint him/her “within an appropriate time-frame” or inform parliament of his refusal to do so.
According to the Constitutional Court, the president can refuse to appoint a candidate only if the candidate does not meet the legal requirements for the office or there are “grave reasons” that cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to perform the job in a way that does not harm the authority of the institution of general prosecutor. When rejecting an appointment the president “shall list reasons for not appointing the candidate, and these reasons cannot be arbitrary”, the court ruled.
The term of the last general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February 2011, but it took until June of that year for parliament to finally elect his replacement, Jozef Čentéš. However, Gašparovič has since refused to appoint Čentéš, despite a Constitutional Court ruling in October 2011 that his election had been entirely constitutional.
The then ruling coalition had serious problems in late 2010 finding a joint candidate for the position, before settling on Čentéš. They then faced more obstacles getting him elected via a secret ballot. A parliamentary vote on December 2, 2010 ended with several coalition MPs voting anonymously with the opposition, almost bringing down the government in the process.
In a ballot on May 17, 2011 which was a re-run of the December 2, 2010 vote, Trnka, the only candidate, won the support of 70 of the 150 deputies present. A simple majority of all 150 MPs present – i.e. 76 – would have secured his victory. By rejecting Trnka, the then ruling coalition MPs apparently heeded a threat by former prime minister Iveta Radičová to resign if Trnka, about whom she had expressed strong reservations, were to prevail.
The re-run was a secret ballot, held after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 20, 2011 that Trnka’s constitutional rights had been violated during two 2010 votes, when deputies revealed how they had voted by photographing their ballots or openly declaring whom they had supported. The court found the deputies, by doing so, had violated the basic principles of the secret ballot and thus Trnka’s rights.
The ruling coalition then went to considerable lengths to make it possible for MPs to choose the general prosecutor via a non-secret vote. In May 2011 parliament voted to change its own rules in order to allow a recorded vote rather than a secret ballot to be used to select the general prosecutor, but Tichý and a group of 35 Smer MPs challenged the modification. The final vote on June 7, 2011 in which MPs chose Čentéš’ was held in secret in order to avoid subsequent claims of illegitimacy. That vote was ruled legitimate by the Constitutional Court in October last year.More from Politics & Society
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