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EDITORIAL

Like a bad movie: Political script needs a rewrite and the actors must study their roles

Village witch doctors and crystal balls may soon be back in vogue in Slovakia given the inability of legal analysts to make sense of what is going on in politics. The Prime Minister's party has said that it wants the Prime Minister to run for the soon-to-be-vacant Presidency, even though the Prime Minister himself doesn't want the job, and the Constitution says he's not allowed to do both jobs at once anyway. The still-sitting President has called a re-run of a referendum on the direct election of his replacement, although the Constitution says the government can nix the results of the public vote by adopting a constitutional statute after three years. And no-one can say how laws are going to be passed or government ministers changed when President Michal Kováč leaves office on March 2.
What is the Constitutional Court's position on this shambolic state of affairs? Nothing very concrete, unfortunately, when what verdicts it does produce are not legally binding.
Part of the problem lies with the Constitution itself, which was drafted very hastily in 1992 only months before Slovakia's separation from the Czech Republic. There was simply no time for in-depth analysis of the text, still less for discussion of the situations that might arise when the various provisions were applied.

Village witch doctors and crystal balls may soon be back in vogue in Slovakia given the inability of legal analysts to make sense of what is going on in politics. The Prime Minister's party has said that it wants the Prime Minister to run for the soon-to-be-vacant Presidency, even though the Prime Minister himself doesn't want the job, and the Constitution says he's not allowed to do both jobs at once anyway. The still-sitting President has called a re-run of a referendum on the direct election of his replacement, although the Constitution says the government can nix the results of the public vote by adopting a constitutional statute after three years. And no-one can say how laws are going to be passed or government ministers changed when President Michal Kováč leaves office on March 2.

What is the Constitutional Court's position on this shambolic state of affairs? Nothing very concrete, unfortunately, when what verdicts it does produce are not legally binding.

Part of the problem lies with the Constitution itself, which was drafted very hastily in 1992 only months before Slovakia's separation from the Czech Republic. There was simply no time for in-depth analysis of the text, still less for discussion of the situations that might arise when the various provisions were applied.

The first hint that the Constitution might contain some embarrassing flaws came in late 1992 when the ruling coalition discovered that party deputies who were chosen for cabinet positions could no longer cast votes in the chamber, thus reducing their party's Parliamentary majority substantially. The Constitution was quickly amended.

But many of the less absurd inconsistencies in the Constitution were not immediately noticed, and are only now becoming apparent. In a prophetic analysis of Constitutional weaknesses written in 1995 by Ernest Valko, the former Chief Justice of the Czechoslovak Constitutional Court, the following lines appear:

"The constitution enacts a system of relationships between the highest state authorities which engenders a number of contradictionsÉ[it] establishes a three-fifths majority for the election of the PresidentÉwithout, however, providing for the situation in which parliament does not reach such a majority and, consequently, the president cannot be elected to the office."

Dr. Valko hit the present nail on the head over two years ago. No-one can make any sensible predictions about what is going to happen when Kováč leaves office because the Constitution never fully provided for a situation in which the government of Slovakia was the sole executive power in the country.

If Vladimír Mečiar, the Prime Minister, were elected President at some point, he could legally hold on to his Premiership simply by asking Parliamentary Chairman and HZDS deputy Ivan Gašparovič to delay the swearing-in ceremony. The Constitution, regrettably, does not set a time limit for the President elect to take his oath of office.

Many figures across the political spectrum are now wringing their hands and saying the Constitution should be amended, or even rewritten. But given the unlikelihood of any party getting 90 votes in Parliament to push through its Constitutional vision, Slovakia's political, social and economic script may have to serve as it stands.

The Constitutional script, however, is only half of the problem. If Slovakia's political actors, especially those in the governing coalition, researched their roles a little more thoroughly, they would discover that the success of the film "Democracy in Slovakia" requires each deputy to cast his Parliamentary votes with reference, above all else, to his legal conscience, and only then to his narrow party loyalties.

Until now, the government has defied Constitutional Court rulings that have required it, among other things, to return the mandate stripped from HZDS rebel František Gaulieder, and to distribute four-question ballots during last May's botched referendum. Coalition deputies have always responded with crocodile tears and tongue-in-cheek lamentations over the non-binding nature of Court verdicts.

Anton Poliak, a ZRS deputy, is the one exception to this rule. After his coalition mates refused to accept Gaulieder back in the fall of 1997, Poliak began voting with the opposition in protest. But one conscientious political actor cannot save an entire movie from a cast of unsavory characters who seem bent on twisting the Constitutional script, missing Court cues and making a mockery of their roles as representatives of the people.

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