WHILE anyone, regardless of one’s education level, can become an MP, a municipal or regional council deputy, or even the prime minister for that matter, one will now need to have at least a secondary education to serve as a mayor – whether for the nation’s capital or a village of 60 souls somewhere in central Slovakia. As part of the new election laws, MPs passed a requirement for mayors to have achieved at least a secondary education. While the election law was passed on May 29 with the declared aim of unifying the rules for all elections in Slovakia, this requirement is only valid for municipal elections.

“It’s hard to expect an illiterate person to manage schooling facilities well,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, whose department authored the laws, told the Sme daily. The education requirement for mayors was not part of the original draft law, however. It was proposed during the parliamentary debate, two days before the law was passed, by Smer MP Dušan Bublavý. MPs from Smer as well as opposition parties Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), and some from the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), voted in favour of the provision.

The idea for an education requirement for mayors did not come out of the blue, but rather as a reaction to reports in the past of illiterate mayors in some villages. Such was the case of Richnava Mayor Vladimír Pokuta, nominated by the Roma Initiative of Slovakia (RIS) party. The case dates back to 2011. Mayor Pokuta was having difficulty reading the mayor’s oath at the ceremonial first session of the municipal council, and the whole country learned about it thanks to a video that someone posted online. The video proved controversial among the Slovak public, with many people believing illiterate candidates should be prevented from being elected into mayoral posts.

Unconstitutionality concerns

At that time, political analysts and human rights watchdogs responded to such suggestions by saying any such requirements would be unconstitutional. The requirement has now sailed through parliament, but concerns over its unconstitutionality linger.

Opposition MP Daniel Lipšic, former interior minister, announced he will contest the legislation at the Constitutional Court, hinting at the unconstitutionality of the education requirement for mayors, which he called a return to the type of governance in previous centuries.

“It’s obviously unconstitutional,” Lipšic told the TASR newswire. “People have the right to elect into the directly elected posts whomever they want, even an illiterate candidate.”

Kaliňák admitted that the requirement is a controversial thing, “but we have passed it in such a form that attempts to be in line with the constitution,” he told Sme.

Despite the concerns over the provision’s unconstitutionality, representatives of mayors say they respect the education requirement. A certain level of education is necessary for mayors, according to Jozef Dvonč, president of the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia (ZMOS).

At the same time, Dvonč admitted that the new law could prevent people who previously served as mayors and proved to be good at their work from being elected again.

“This way we prevent them from getting a mandate even though citizens wish them to be elected,” Dvonč said, as quoted by TASR. “It’s a bit against any logic.”

Furthermore, ZMOS representatives claimed they would demand the requirement to be extended to all elected posts, not only mayors elected in municipal elections.

Ombudswoman sees problem too

Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová admits that the educational requirement for mayors not only contradicts the constitution, but also violates several rights of citizens.

“It has an impact on the right to be elected and the right to vote, thus distorting the democratic competition,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the law limits the number of candidates and at the same time impedes the citizens’ access to elected posts.

Dubovcová explained that the constitution defines the right to vote as general, equal and direct, both for the active as well as the passive right to vote.

She maintains the new law interferes with both of them.

“Some candidates won’t be able to run, which means their right will be violated,” Dubovcová claims. “Voters won’t be able to select, and thus their right will be violated too.”

Not quite what they wanted

Independent MP Miroslav Beblavý, who voted against the proposal, noted that even though the legislators apparently wanted to introduce the obligation for mayors to have passed the secondary-school leaving exam, the result is not quite that.

While the election law now refers to the law on schooling, the latter defines a secondary education not only as the ‘maturita’ exams (grammar school leaving exams) or a vocational school leaving exam, but also the so-called lower secondary education, which refers to schools which mentally challenged pupils attend for a year after they finish primary school.

“That means the currently passed law will allow as mayor those who, after finishing at special primary school, went for a year to a special secondary school, but not those who passed four years of grammar school and then for some reason did not pass the maturita exam,” Beblavý noted.

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