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EDITORIAL

Political immunity: From Lewinsky to Lexa

Article 78 is one of the most bizarre clauses in the Slovak constitution. It confers immunity from detention or criminal prosecution on any sitting member of parliament, and requires police to release any MP arrested while committing an offence unless the parliamentary Mandate and Immunity Committee approves of the arrest. In other words, if any party holds a simple majority in the 150 seat chamber, its deputies can break the law with impunity.
On the other hand, however, if the government is determined to prosecute a member of parliament, only a vestige of justice attends the process. A special session of parliament must be convened to hold a vote on whether the accused should be stripped of immunity; this decision is made by politicians who have no access to investigation documents, but who instead are steeped in political prejudice and partisanship.


Former secret service chief Ivan Lexa (left) and former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči have both offered to co-operate with the state and hunt down the real criminals in the kidnapping and referendum-fixing cases.

Article 78 is one of the most bizarre clauses in the Slovak constitution. It confers immunity from detention or criminal prosecution on any sitting member of parliament, and requires police to release any MP arrested while committing an offence unless the parliamentary Mandate and Immunity Committee approves of the arrest. In other words, if any party holds a simple majority in the 150 seat chamber, its deputies can break the law with impunity.

On the other hand, however, if the government is determined to prosecute a member of parliament, only a vestige of justice attends the process. A special session of parliament must be convened to hold a vote on whether the accused should be stripped of immunity; this decision is made by politicians who have no access to investigation documents, but who instead are steeped in political prejudice and partisanship.

Bill Clinton might envy the exalted status that politicians in the HZDS party of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar enjoyed while in power from 1994 to 1998. Bedevilled by prosecutors and independent investigators during his Presidential tenure, Clinton is the second sitting U.S President to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and one hopes the last for lying under oath about his sex life.

Clinton's tawdry crimes and misdemeanours, which revolve around his dalliance with a woman not his wife, present a rather startling contrast to the offences that former secret service boss Ivan Lexa and former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči are suspected of having committed, but for which they have never been prosecuted.

Briefly restated (how familiar these stories now seem!), Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner has said that Lexa is suspected of involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of President Michal Kováč's son, while Krajči is under investigation for spoiling a crucial 1997 referendum. Pittner has said he will ask parliament in the second week of February to remove the immunity of these two MP's so that they may be prosecuted for their crimes. In the meantime, of course, the two men are in legal limbo and public disgrace.

Krajči, Lexa and their HZDS party colleagues have claimed that they are the victims of a political witch hunt by the current ruling parties, and in this they are quite right. By saying he will ask parliament to revoke their immunity, Interior Minister Pittner has virtually passed sentence on the two MP's before a court has had a chance to even glance at the prosecution's case.

This kind of political showmanship is toe-curdling, but is of a piece with the 'Black Books' various ministries have been releasing to the public since the middle of January. Conceived as reports on the internal situation at each ministry after the Mečiar era, the Black Books have become a license for each minister to pillory his predecessor in front of the cameras, with no room provided for rebuttal.

If these tactics - Black Books and immunity votes - are what we can expect of the new cabinet now that its 100-day honeymoon in power is almost over, then the polarisation of Slovak politics and society will not be reversed any time soon.

It also may earn the cabinet a few demerit points from voters. Polls in the U.S. have revealed that people are fed up with the Republicans' hounding of Clinton, and that 59% of Republicans themselves feel the Lewinsky scandal has damaged their own party. If the government is not careful, the Slovak public could become fed up with show trials and HZDS-bashing.

Bill Clinton, if he's paying attention to Slovak politics, should thank his lucky Starrs that immunity from prosecution was never his to lose.

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