SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Poradný výbor na preskúmanie vhodnosti kandidátov na sudcov ÚS

THE TWO men could not be more different. Ivan Gašparovič was not known for his lust for work. He was however for his membership in the Communist party and Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS, and his ‘near-membership’ in Robert Fico’s Smer. These are lessons in political opportunism, which helped the former head of state spend most of his adult life in a high public office. New President Andrej Kiska seems to be constantly on the lookout for anew career, business and spiritual challenges, having tried retail, charity, Buddhism, Judaism and almost everything in between along the way. His honesty about campaign finance, total independence from parties and a complete lack of experience with politics set a new precedent for who can become president and how.

THE TWO men could not be more different. Ivan Gašparovič was not known for his lust for work. He was however for his membership in the Communist party and Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS, and his ‘near-membership’ in Robert Fico’s Smer. These are lessons in political opportunism, which helped the former head of state spend most of his adult life in a high public office. New President Andrej Kiska seems to be constantly on the lookout for anew career, business and spiritual challenges, having tried retail, charity, Buddhism, Judaism and almost everything in between along the way. His honesty about campaign finance, total independence from parties and a complete lack of experience with politics set a new precedent for who can become president and how.

Yet it seems likely that Kiska may repeat what was considered the biggest blunder of Gašparovič’s second term. Just like his predecessor, he was presented with a judicial nomination he does not like - then, it was Jozef Čentéš, who was elected as general prosecutor by the right-wing coalition led by Iveta Radičová. Now, it’s six constitutional judge candidates elected by Smer.

When Gašparovič refused to appoint Čentéš, the Constitutional Court ruled in a revolutionary decision that despite the parliamentary nature of local democracy and decades of tradition, the head of state was not bound by the parliament’s vote and could turn elected nominees down. Many critics, including former Constitutional Court boss Ján Mazák, who now advises Kiska, were outraged and claimed that the decision should be overturned as soon as possible. But now Kiska formed the Advisory Committee for the Evaluation of the Suitability of Candidates for Judges of the Constitutional Court (Poradný výbor na preskúmanie vhodnosti kandidátov na sudcov Ústavného súdu), which has yet to gain a more familiar name (PVPVKSÚS does not work very well). In his decision, Kiska explicitly cites the 2012 ruling, and he seems more than ready to use the new powers it gives him.

In the Čentéš case the justices ruled that candidates can be rejected if their character poses a threat to the proper functioning of the institution they were chosen to lead. And this is where the bigger problem appeared - even if we disregard the legal argument about the limits of presidential powers, there just wasn’t anything about Čentéš that really disqualified him. In short - even the questionable new powers were clearly being abused. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen again. Many of the people selected by Smer to become Constitutional Court judges are unknown and inexperienced. But so was (and remains) Kiska. If he decides to deny them office, it should be on more convincing grounds.

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