SLOVAK MPs across the political spectrum refused to cut their extensive immunity by rejecting a law prepared by Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic.
Only 41 of the 126 MPs present on July 6 voted to cut their immunity such that MPs may be criminally prosecuted even without the approval of parliament, which is currently required to start such a proceeding.
Of the present MPs, 72 refrained from voting. Among eight MPs who voted against the change was Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) chairman Vladimír Mečiar.
MPs of the opposition party Smer, among the most vocal critics of the cabinet's attitude to fighting corruption in Slovakia, did not support the proposal either.
The rejection of the change disappointed Lipšic as well as anti-corruption groups. Emília Sičáková-Beblavá, the president of Transparency International Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator that the vote showed again that "fighting political corruption is a tough battle everywhere in the world."
"The deeds of MPs do not correspond with their words. One year ago MPs obliged the Slovak cabinet to fight corruption and limiting MP immunity was specifically mention as a part of that fight," said Sičáková-Beblavá.
At the start of this year, in fact, MPs extended their immunity through a constitutional change that protects them from prosecution in civil legal cases, she added.
Lipšic, a Christian Democrat, did not hide his frustration over the outcome of the vote. The coalition parties failed to support the changes, Lipšic said, even though no government partners raised objections to it while it was in its preparatory stage.
"I must say I am sad about this outcome. If we want to fight corruption and cronyism, we have to take principal measures ,and if we want to convince people that fighting corruption is necessary, we politicians have to start acting and not talking," Lipšic told the media shortly after the parliamentary vote.
According to Sičáková-Beblavá, it is "especially disappointing" that only two MPs of PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union supported the changes.
The liberal New Citizen's Alliance MPs supported it, as did some MPs of the Hungarian Coalition Party. However, even one of Lipšic's own party peers did not support the change.
According to HZDS vice-chairman Milan Urbáni, MPs feared that the proposal would prevent them from doing their jobs.
"MPs might have feared unnecessary court trials and investigation," Urbáni said, but he added that the "HZDS does not have any problems with the [limitation of] immunity, but to carry out the MP post properly, immunity outside parliament is inevitable."
According to Sičáková-Beblavá, however, MPs showed that they have little will to approve changes that would cut their own privileges.
"Slovak MPs maintain privileges that are an anachronism in modern societies," she said.
"It is not good when, in a society that has enshrined the equality of citizens before the law, groups of citizens who are 'more equal' than others are created," she added.
The proposed change would also have limited the immunity of Slovak judges. Their prosecution in matters that are not related to the execution of their job would be possible, even without the prior approval of the Slovak Constitutional Court, as is required now.
Judges also opposed the change and praised MPs for rejecting Lipšic's plan.
"It is a very dangerous path and MPs apparently realised the seriousness of such a step. Independent and non-partisan judges should decide court cases without having to face pressures and threats, including the threat of unsubstantiated prosecution.
"That is why we have the Constitutional Court, which should decide whether a judge will be prosecuted or not," Milan Karabin, head of the Slovak Supreme Court, told news channel TA3 on July 6.
Lipšic, however, insisted that the limitation of immunity for both MPs and judges would only relate to matters outside the execution of their posts. "I will continue to try to have the limitation of immunity passed," he added.
12. Jul 2004 at 0:00 | Martina Jurinová