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One more secret vote for top prosecutor

DOBROSLAV Trnka, whose term as the country’s general prosecutor elapsed on February 2, is still fighting to regain the powerful position, posing severe problems for the ruling coalition led by Iveta Radičová. Parliament tried and failed four times last year to select a new general prosecutor and Radičová expressed strong opposition to Trnka’s eventual re-selection, even going so far as to promise that she would resign if it were to happen.

DOBROSLAV Trnka, whose term as the country’s general prosecutor elapsed on February 2, is still fighting to regain the powerful position, posing severe problems for the ruling coalition led by Iveta Radičová. Parliament tried and failed four times last year to select a new general prosecutor and Radičová expressed strong opposition to Trnka’s eventual re-selection, even going so far as to promise that she would resign if it were to happen.

The ruling coalition has since gone to considerable lengths to turn the previously secret ballot used to select the general prosecutor into a recorded vote. But the Constitutional Court, in a decision published on April 20, turned back the clock. In response to a suit brought by Trnka, it ruled that his constitutional rights had been violated during two of the parliamentary votes last year.

According to the court, the violation happened when deputies revealed how they had voted in the secret ballot, by photographing their ballots or openly declaring who they had supported. In doing so, the deputies violated the basic principles of the secret ballot and thus Trnka’s rights, the court found.

The Constitutional Court thereby cancelled the results of a vote on December 2 as well as that on December 7, the SITA newswire reported.

Complications around the secret ballot emerged after the ruling coalition failed on December 2 to have its candidate, Jozef Čentéš, selected as general prosecutor after at least six coalition deputies used the anonymity of the secret ballot to vote with the opposition Smer party to reselect Trnka. Trnka missed out on reselection by just one vote, and the coalition MPs’ disloyalty opened the door to speculation about plots to unseat the prime minister.

On April 5 MPs agreed to change the parliamentary rules for selecting the general prosecutor, judges of the Constitutional Court and the chairs and deputy chairs of the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ), Slovakia’s public administration and procurement watchdog. Instead of being chosen by a secret ballot they will henceforth be selected in a public vote, with each MP’s preference being recorded.

Smer leader Robert Fico denounced the move, branding the idea of an open vote in parliament as “undemocratic” and calling it one of the most shameful decisions in the history of the Slovak Parliament.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič vetoed the law on April 21, arguing that the ruling coalition had decided to change the law as a result of its deputies’ failure to select a new general prosecutor in a secret ballot, which he did not consider an appropriate or democratic reason. MPs are expected to override his veto.



The tricky vote and possible resignation



Radičová responded on April 20 to the Constitutional Court ruling by saying that the secret ballot to select the general prosecutor would be re-run so that the proceedings of parliamentary deputies cannot in any way be doubted.

Nevertheless, Radičová repeated her promise that if Trnka were to be reselected she would quit as prime minister, again raising the political stakes. Political scientist Miroslav Kusý said that she could hardly have taken any other attitude.

“It was not very fortunate that right at the beginning she pushed the situation to the margin: me or Trnka,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “He wasn’t such a significant person for her to have framed the situation in that way. Nevertheless, it has now become a question of prestige and she could hardly back out because then she would publicly trample on promises confirmed several times.”

This nevertheless makes selection of the prosecutor a litmus test for the ruling coalition, Kusý added, suggesting that right now the ruling coalition does not have any other choice but to hold a secret ballot and this time to get it right.

“Any attempt at manipulation or obstruction would be unacceptable and would send the vote again to the Constitutional Court,” Kusý said. “The ruling coalition simply cannot afford this.”

For the political scientist the situation within the ruling coalition does not seem any different from the situation during the vote in December.

“There is still the phenomenon of six or four deputies of the ruling coalition who voted for Trnka and this could be repeated,” Kusý said.

As for the chances of Trnka’s reselection, Kusý said that he does have some chance, but that those who now vote for him will indirectly support the fall of the ruling coalition.

“There is no doubt that the president will assign the chairman of the strongest political party to form the government, which is Fico; and it is very probable that Fico would be able to form the government and get a confidence vote from parliament,” Kusý added.

Political scientist Juraj Marušiak said that Radičová has frequently used the threat of resignation but it is unclear whether she knows how she would proceed if she actually had to resign in order to save face.

Marušiak suggested that the prime minister may even be seeking to establish a personal powerbase for herself.

“It is evident that she is not certain about her own standing in the camp of the ruling parties, but so far it is not clear to what degree she is willing to build her own political powerbase, though the high number of non-party appointees in leading positions at the Cabinet Office could signal such tendencies,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

Marušiak added that currently no one in the ruling coalition or Radičová’s own party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), would benefit from her resignation, given the high popularity of Smer.

Based on article 116 of the 5th paragraph of the constitution, along with Radičová, the whole government would have to resign, which would require ruling coalition talks, and these might fail, thus threatening early elections, Marušiak said.

“This widens Radičová’s room for manoeuvre,” he concluded.



Michaela Terenzani contributed to this report


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