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Former HZDS deputy booted out of Parliament

František Gaulieder, a deputy who quit Slovakia's main political party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), has been stripped of his seat in Parliament on the basis of a resignation letter he says he never wrote. After a stormy debate in Parliament on December 4, Gaulieder's former HZDS colleagues and deputies from the two other parties that form the ruling coalition voted that Gaulieder be removed from Parliament and that his seat be given to HZDS member Ján Belan.
The Slovak Parliament's action provoked a swift and angry response from the European Parliament (EP), which staged an urgent vote on a resolution condemning Gaulieder's ouster on December 12. The EP resolution urged the Slovak Parliament to şşreconsider its position on this matter'' and reminded "the Slovak Government that respect for fundamental democratic principles, including the free exercise of parliamentary mandates, is a condition for entering into and developing cooperation with the EU.''


Under the microscope. František Gaulieder faces the media after being voted out of Parliament on December 4. He said he wants keep his seat in the institution.
Vladimír Hák

František Gaulieder, a deputy who quit Slovakia's main political party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), has been stripped of his seat in Parliament on the basis of a resignation letter he says he never wrote.

After a stormy debate in Parliament on December 4, Gaulieder's former HZDS colleagues and deputies from the two other parties that form the ruling coalition voted that Gaulieder be removed from Parliament and that his seat be given to HZDS member Ján Belan.

The Slovak Parliament's action provoked a swift and angry response from the European Parliament (EP), which staged an urgent vote on a resolution condemning Gaulieder's ouster on December 12. The EP resolution urged the Slovak Parliament to şşreconsider its position on this matter'' and reminded şşthe Slovak Government that respect for fundamental democratic principles, including the free exercise of parliamentary mandates, is a condition for entering into and developing cooperation with the EU.''

SNS Chairman Ján Slota, called the EP resolutionan şşintervention into Slovakia's internal affairs.'' "If we are going to be constantly blackmailed, I wouldn't care (about the EP resolution and reports that it could lead to a cancellation of the European Union's Associate agreement with Slovakia),'' Slota added. "I think we would get over the temporary economic difficulties.''

At issue is whether Parliamentary deputies had the right to vote Gaulieder out. After he resigned from the HZDS, Gaulieder wrote a letter to the Mandate and Immunity Committee stating that he planned to remain an MP. If that were the case, then deputies would have no legal means to remove him, since according to the Slovak constitution, a lawmaker loses his mandate only if convicted of a crime or voluntarily giving up the seat.

However, a second letter with Gaulieder's signature announcing that he would give up his seat surfaced later. It's that letter that members of the Mandate and Immunity Committee said provided them the legal basis to remove the former HZDS deputy from the country's lawmaking body. But Gaulieder repeatedly has stressed he never wrote the second letter, and that the signature on it is forged.

Gaulieder quit the HZDS Parliamentary faction in early November, saying the party had gone against its election platform and was steering the country away from democracy. In response, the HZDS party leadership stripped Gaulieder of his party membership, citing his şşlack of political activity.''

Gaulieder predicted the HZDS and its two allies, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS), would try to oust him from Parliament, and wrote Parliamentary Speaker and HZDS deputy Ivan Gašparovič a letter in which he said he did not plan to give up his mandate and asked the Speaker to consider any letter, claiming the opposite, as irrelevant.

The second letter

Within two weeks, however, the chairman of the HZDS parliamentary club, Tibor Cabaj, handed Gasparovič a letter that he said Gaulieder wrote and signed. Two days before the December Parliamentary session began, Gasparovič announced that Gaulieder wanted to leave Parliament. Gaulieder wrote Gasparovič again, insisting he did not want to give up his mandate and claiming that the letter that Cabaj had given him had been forged.

The Immunity and Mandate Committee met before the session to have a look at all three letters and then called the deputy in to have him explain the letters and whether he wanted to leave Parliament. Gaulieder responded that he wanted to keep his seat, and that the second letter was not his.

The committee vote

The eight HZDS deputies on the 14-member committee did not believe what Gaulieder had to say and recommended that his mandate be yanked. Before the formal vote, the panel's members from opposition parties left the room in protest. Ivan Poliak, the committee chairman from the ZRS, voted against the recommendation.

During the stormy debate on the floor later that day (WHEN?), opposition deputies warned lawmakers from the ruling coalition that they were setting an unconstitutional precedent. şşYou want to deprive a deputy of his mandate on the basis of a forged document," said Jan Čarnogursky, chairman of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). "If that happens, it will mean that Slovakia is not a democratic and free country.''

But coalition members stuck to the Committee's recommendation that Gaulieder must go. "Gaulieder wanted to give up his mandate," said Melania Kollarikova from the Slovak National Party (SNS). "That was the Mandate and Immunity Committee's decision, and it convinced us.''

Reactions

During the week following Gaulieder's ouster, a group of EU diplomats posted in Slovakia visited Gasparovič. While the specifics from those talks were not made available, at least one Western diplomat revealed the diplomats' tone going into them. şşWhat this coalition has been doing so far was sort of debatable,'' said the Western diplomat in Bratislava, "but this Gaulieder case is a clear breach of law and democratic principles.''

As for Gaulieder, he said he would fight to keep his seat, despite having to endure a bombing at his apartment in Galanta (see sidebar). "I'm going to appeal to all possible courts,'' the embattled politician said. "I think that the (HZDS) party should strike the word şdemocratic' from its name.''

Opposition deputies also submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, a case which a court spokeswoman declared "urgent." A decision could be reached as soon as early January, the spokeswoman added.

POSS ADDS

The coalition ignored the helpless Gaulieder who insisted he wanted to keep his seat. The situation reminded of a bad farse. "Mr Gasparovic, if you receive a letter saying that Gaulieder died, and the next day, Gaulieder shows up and says he is alive, will you have the house vote on it as well?'' enfuriated Milan Knazko from the Democratic Union said during the debate.

"Primitives,'' mumbled Jan Figel form KDH, as he was leaving the session "The only difference between Serbia, Belarus and Slovakia is that Slovakia has an association agreement with the EU,'' Carnogursky said, referring to the authoritarian regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who stands accused of denying the opposition victory in local elections, and to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's constitutional changes one senior judge termed "legal vandalism.''

During the week following the ouster, Contents of the talks was not made official. But a source close to the Slovak government and Gasparovic told the private radio Twist that, the diplomats said Slovakia would not receive any more demarches related to possible breaking of democratic principles. According to the source, the diplomats said that if general rules, valid in democratic countries, are not follwed, EU will withdrow from the association agreement with Slovakia during the next year.

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