No new prosecutor before 2011

PARLIAMENT will not resolve before the end of 2010 the question of who will occupy one of the most powerful positions in Slovakia for the next seven years. The lawmakers will try again in early 2011 after the four-party governing coalition first attempts to change the rules for selection of the general prosecutor from a secret parliamentary vote into a recorded ballot. Robert Fico, the leader of the largest party in parliament, Smer, vigorously criticised the idea put forth by the governing parties, calling it an attempt to “break the back of democracy”. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the largest party in the governing coalition, said that the change would make it possible for voters to see how the representatives they elected to parliament actually behaved.

PARLIAMENT will not resolve before the end of 2010 the question of who will occupy one of the most powerful positions in Slovakia for the next seven years. The lawmakers will try again in early 2011 after the four-party governing coalition first attempts to change the rules for selection of the general prosecutor from a secret parliamentary vote into a recorded ballot. Robert Fico, the leader of the largest party in parliament, Smer, vigorously criticised the idea put forth by the governing parties, calling it an attempt to “break the back of democracy”. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the largest party in the governing coalition, said that the change would make it possible for voters to see how the representatives they elected to parliament actually behaved.

“I like transparency; the wider it is and the more we have of it, the healthier it is for society,” SDKÚ chair Mikuláš Dzurinda stated.

Yet the idea of changing the rules came only after the ruling coalition had failed to elect their jointly-endorsed candidate for the prosecutor’s post in a secret ballot.

In a secret ballot on December 2 at least six MPs from ruling coalition parties voted for the incumbent general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka. The coalition parties had agreed to back another candidate, Jozef Čentéš, before the vote. Trnka’s re-selection might have seriously rocked the ruling coalition since Prime Minister Iveta Radičová had previously said she would resign if Trnka won the vote. Then on December 7 the ruling coalition parties deliberately planned another failed vote in order to gain time to change the voting rules. A day before the December 7 vote, leaders of the four parties agreed that their MPs would take ballots but not cast them – ensuring that Trnka would not receive a majority of the MPs present.

Trnka told the media that he would challenge the December 2 vote before Slovakia’s Constitutional Court.

“I personally, as Dobroslav Trnka, will turn to the Constitutional Court so that it issues an interpretation of some rules that are related to a secret vote on the general prosecutor [position] in Slovakia,” he said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The public, or the ruling coalition parties, are unlikely to learn the identity of the coalition deputies who cast their ballots for Trnka in the December 2 vote. But political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator that from now on the ruling coalition will have “to operate with the knowledge that there is a Trojan horse within the ruling coalition”.

Smer’s Fico was quick to offer his interpretation of the events.

“What if it is Mr. Dzurinda who wants to get rid of Radičová?” Fico asked, as quoted by TASR. “What if he arranged this with four or five coalition MPs, saying to himself: enough of Radičová, away with her, let’s build a new governing coalition?”

Dzurinda denied Fico’s speculations in an interview with Sme daily and said that he would do “everything so that the government of Iveta Radičová is successful”.



Tough situation for the coalition



Mesežnikov says that the ruling coalition finds itself in a very difficult situation because its failure to remain unified did not emerge from differing goals among the parties or differing party interests but rather on “fraudulent behaviour by some unidentified MPs”. He stated that without the ruling coalition identifying the responsible MPs it will be rather difficult to restore internal trust.

Mesežnikov is sure that this will have an impact on how the ruling coalition functions in the future.

“Of course, the suspicion remains that there are people who were capable of betrayal or who have even been bought,” Mesežnikov said. “This will linger over this government indefinitely; even in critical moments the coalition will be wondering whether certain votes will work precisely because of the presence of such people in the coalition.”

Concerning the coalition’s intention of changing the rules for selection of the prosecutor, Mesežnikov said that regardless of how it might appear, the situation is merely a classic example of something in government that is simply not working. He said it does not differ from situations in which legislators decide that a law is ineffective and consequently prepare a revision.

Another point, according to Mesežnikov, is that using a secret ballot for selecting constitutional representatives is outdated. He said a secret ballot is justified only when citizens use their right to vote – not when elected officials vote in parliament, stating that “we have public policies and parliamentary democracy is public”.

Mesežnikov said that MPs votes should be recorded and citizens are entitled to know how their elected representatives have voted and the stands they have taken on important issues.

“I want to have representatives about whom I at least know how they voted and how they behaved so that if I disagree with their positions I can decide not to vote for them,” Mesežnikov emphasised.

It seemed on December 9 that the governing coalition might be able to successfully push through a vote that would change the election rules after two MPs from the Civic Conservative Party (OKS), elected in June under the Most-Híd flag, who had originally opposed the idea, stated it was possible to gain their support.



Controversy from the very start



The selection of the top prosecutor has been plagued with controversy from the beginning of the process. Incumbent Trnka was unexpectedly nominated in November by a lone SDKÚ deputy, Stanislav Janiš; Smer MP Mojmír Mamojka subsequently proposed Trnka too.

In the first round of secret balloting held in early November involving 147 MPs, Trnka received 70 “yes” votes and 60 “no” votes, with 17 deputies abstaining; Mária Mišíková, backed by KDH, SaS and Most-Híd, had the support of 49 MPs and was opposed by 84, with 14 abstaining. Ján Hrivnák, nominated by the SDKÚ, was supported by 28 MPs, with 98 voting against him and 21 abstaining.

MPs from the coalition parties were observed during that vote using cameras on their mobile phones to photograph their ballot papers, leading Smer to protest in parliament and to the media.

SDKÚ MPs then blocked a run-off between Mišíková and Trnka by registering for the ballot but not casting any votes, ensuring that neither of the two candidates would receive a majority among the MPs present.


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