Coalition still arguing over GP vote

THE CHRISTMAS break is unlikely to calm tensions within the ruling coalition that erupted over its members’ failure to get their joint candidate, Jozef Čentéš, selected as the next general prosecutor.

THE CHRISTMAS break is unlikely to calm tensions within the ruling coalition that erupted over its members’ failure to get their joint candidate, Jozef Čentéš, selected as the next general prosecutor.

The powerful position is filled for a seven-year term. Instead, at least six coalition deputies used the secret ballot to vote with the opposition Smer party to reconfirm incumbent Dobroslav Trnka in the post. This was despite Prime Minister Iveta Radičová saying that she would resign if Trnka won.

Their attempt failed, by one vote, but the move prompted a round of claim and counter-claim within the coalition at what seemed to be an internal plot to unseat the prime minister. Coalition leaders are now trying to modify the rules to make voting public and to reduce the powers of the top prosecutor.

Shortly after the vote, Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) deputy Zoltán Horváth suggested that the blame rested with Most-Híd party and specifically its deputy Elemér Jakab, who according to Horváth tampered with his ballot. In response, Most-Híd chairman Béla Bugár called on his ruling coalition partners to stop accusing his party or risk Most-Híd’s withdrawal from the coalition.

Although the ruling coalition had agreed that the SDKÚ, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Most-Híd and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) would resume their efforts to get Čentéš selected next year, once the parties change the voting rules, Bugár on December 13 called for a vote to occur as quickly as possible.

“I feel ashamed of what is happening around the election of the general prosecutor; I apologise to the public,” Bugár said, adding that Horváth must have been frustrated after Most-Híd refused to support his bid for mayor of Galanta in the November local elections.

Bugár also said that it was unacceptable to be accused without proof and said he was expecting an apology from Horváth, the TASR newswire reported.

In comments to the media on December 13, Radičová refused to characterise the situation within the ruling coalition as a crisis.

“No crisis, in the true sense of the word, is taking place; only problems that we’re capable of handling ourselves,” said Radičová.

Meanwhile, the ruling coalition council has agreed to change some of the powers of the general prosecutor and charged a working group with preparing changes to the operation of the General Prosecutor’s Office.

Radičová said these changes are crucial for increasing the trustworthiness of the office. She also said that the government would ask constitutional lawyers to assess the possibility of selecting the general prosecutor via a public vote.

The ruling coalition also wants to weaken the powers of overseeing prosecutors so that they can no longer halt criminal prosecutions or cancel charges. Selection procedures would be transparent and prosecutors would be expected to publish their decisions, the Sme daily wrote.

Meanwhile media reported on December 14 that Smer boss Robert Fico was apparently interested in making a deal on the selection of the general prosecutor. In return for giving his party’s support to Čentéš, Fico sought to secure for Smer the post of “deputy general prosecutor for criminal law,” Bugár said, according to TASR.

Fico met Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík on December 10 and, according to Fico’s account: “We talked about rules of procedure and the need for having the general prosecutor’s election carried out in December. I also maintained that it might be appropriate for them to stop nominating party-affiliated candidates but to try to find a candidate who could also enjoy the support of the opposition.”

The selection of the top prosecutor has proved one of the most difficult tests for the ruling coalition. After Trnka, the incumbent, was unexpectedly nominated in November by a lone SDKÚ deputy, Stanislav Janiš, Radičová expressed strong opposition to his re-selection and said she would resign were this to happen.

In the first round of secret voting 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; while Ján Hrivnák, nominated by the SDKÚ, was supported by 28 MPs, with 98 voting against him and 21 abstaining. SDKÚ MPs then caused the run-off between Mišíková and Trnka to end inconclusively by registering for the ballot but not casting any votes, ensuring that neither candidate received a majority among the MPs present.

In a secret ballot on December 2 at least six MPs from the ruling coalition parties voted anonymously for Trnka despite party leaders all agreeing to back Čentéš. Trnka failed by one vote to be re-selected, but the six coalition MPs’ disloyalty prompted recriminations.

On December 7 the ruling coalition parties deliberately executed another failed vote in order to gain time to change the voting rules to make MPs’ votes public. A day before the December 7 vote, the leaders of the four parties agreed that their MPs would take ballots but not cast them, ensuring that Trnka would not receive the support of a majority of the MPs present.

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

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