Reform Elements

Main points of the constitutional reform:

* Gives the Supreme Control Office, a watchdog over state bodies, more power to control state organs such as government ministries, the National Property Fund (FNM) privatisation agency, and institutions which are funded by the state or have obtained loans from the state.

* Introduces the right of self-government to regions, with details to be fleshed out in the Public Administration Law which should follow constitutional reform (government MPs have said it may be passed in March.

* Takes away the president's right to give pardons to people suspected of having committed crimes (as happened when acting-President Vladimír Mečiar issued his infamous blanket pardon on March 3, 1998 to people involved - but never tried - in the kidnapping of former President Kováč's son and the thwarting of a 1997 referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections). The president will be able to give out pardons or amnesties only to properly sentenced criminals.

* Introduces the institute of Ombudsman - a protector of human rights who is elected in parliament and who has the right to sue in the name of an injured party, and defend that party.

* Creates the Council of Judges - an independent self-governing body of 18 judges elected for five years. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (who is elected by parliament) will automatically be the head of the Council, while eight members will be elected by the judges themselves, three by parliament, three by the president, and three by the government. In other words, potentially 10 of the 18 Council members will be political appointees.

* Prolongs the time period a suspect can be held without charge from 24 to 48 hours, and in the case of especially dangerous crimes 72 hours.

* Gives the president the right to turn to the Constitutional Court before announcing a referendum if he has some doubts that the referendum might not be in line with the Constitution.

* Gives the Constitutional Court the right to declare laws and measures passed by the government or parliament invalid if they are found to contravene the Constitution. The law is to be suspended from the day of the Court's decision, whereas in the existing Constitution the law would remain valid until parliament or the government voluntarily withdrew it.

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