DOBROSLAV Trnka, the former general prosecutor whose bid to retain his position has been supported by the opposition Smer party, failed to secure the job in a secret ballot of MPs on May 17. By rejecting Trnka, whose previous term as general prosecutor elapsed on February 2 this year, ruling coalition MPs apparently heeded a threat by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová to resign if Trnka, about whom she has expressed strong reservations, were to prevail.
While the ruling coalition celebrated the outcome of the vote, calling it good news for Slovakia, Smer alleged that MPs were instructed how to vote, despite individual ballots supposedly being confidential. Smer leader Robert Fico claimed that a strategy, which he dubbed ‘Radičová’s Code’, had been used to influence the voting of coalition MPs.
Trnka, the only candidate, won the support of 70 of the 150 deputies present; 17 voted against him; 29 abstained from voting and there were 34 invalid votes. A simple majority of MPs present – 76 – would have been necessary to secure his victory. Trnka made no immediate comment after the vote but Fico encouraged him to once again challenge the conduct of the secret ballot at the Constitutional Court. The May 17 ballot was a re-run of a previous secret vote held in December which was ruled unconstitutional by the court after a challenge by Trnka.
“The government in its programme defined its goals as being to increase the trust of citizens in the rule of law, increase the enforceability of law, and fight against corruption and cronyism,” Radičová said in a statement.
“Change in the management of the prosecution is one of the key steps to fulfil these obligations and thus also increase the quality of life of citizens for a healthy and just Slovakia.”
In a surprise move just before the vote, the ruling coalition’s nominee for the post, Jozef Čentéš, announced on May 13 that he would not run in the secret vote. He explained his move by saying that the vote had been linked to allegations of MPs being blackmailed and bribed and that he did not want to be part of it any more. He rejected the notion that anyone had influenced his decision.
Complications around the secret ballot emerged after the ruling coalition failed on December 2 to have 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 in favour of Trnka. Trnka missed out on reselection by just one vote on that occasion, and the disloyalty of the coalition MPs opened the door to speculation about a plot to unseat the prime minister, who had promised to resign if Trnka were chosen.
The ruling coalition has gone to considerable lengths to turn the previously secret ballot method used to select the general prosecutor into a public, recorded vote. But the Constitutional Court, in a decision published on April 20 in response to a case brought by Trnka, 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 whom they had supported. By doing so, the court found, the deputies violated the basic principles of the secret ballot and thus Trnka’s rights. As a result, despite a law passed in the interim to make future votes public, MPs held another secret ballot.
The ruling coalition declared that the May 17 vote had been regular and secret.
“The deputies respected the stricter measures and the vote really was secret,” the Christian Democratic Movement’s (KDH) Pavol Hrušovský said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. He added that there could be no doubt about the vote which would justify a challenge on the grounds that it had violated parliamentary rules.
The chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Mikuláš Dzurinda, said he was satisfied that parliament had fulfilled the requirement defined by the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
Fico spies ‘Radičová’s code’
“All coalition clubs and one faction marked their ballots in such a way that it was possible to control how each club voted,” Fico said, describing what he called ‘Radičová’s code’.
According to Fico, 18 deputies marked their ballots diagonally, which corresponds to the number of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) deputies. The Ordinary People faction marked their votes as both ‘against’ and ‘abstain’, he said. Members of the Most-Híd party, according to Fico, marked their ballots horizontally, and deputies of the KDH voted against Trnka. Fico concluded by saying that SDKÚ MPs abstained, SITA reported.
Fico also said that one extra deputy marked his or her ballot in the same way as the SDKÚ. He alleged that the mechanism employed was only workable provided Čentéš did not run and that if he had remained in the race the deputies would have not been able to use ‘Radičová’s code’.
Smer has called for Trnka to turn again to the Constitutional Court, with Fico suggesting that Trnka should seek a preliminary decision that would ban an open vote on the job until a ‘regular’ secret ballot is held.
The Smer boss has expressed vociferous opposition to a public vote for the general prosecutor post, describing it as ‘undemocratic’ and even going so far as to suggest that if he were president he would refuse to appoint a candidate selected by means of an open vote.
Meanwhile doubts emerged about whether Čentéš, following his withdrawal from the secret ballot, would still have the support of the whole coalition in a public vote to select a general prosecutor. KDH boss Ján Figeľ said that Čentéš could be one of the nominees for the joint candidate, but KDH MP Pavol Abrhan told Slovak Radio that Čentéš’ decision to withdraw his candidacy from the secret ballot meant he had lost Abrhan’s trust.
Dzurinda on May 18 said that he could not say if Čentéš would continue to be the joint candidate of the ruling coalition.
“What I recorded in my head is a wide agreement among the ruling coalition that our joint candidate is Dr Čentéš,” Dzurinda said as quoted by SITA. “The SDKÚ respects this agreement.”
Mesežnikov: Čentéš has a chance
Parliament has meanwhile broken a presidential veto over a change to parliamentary rules that makes it possible to select the prosecutor via a public vote.
“I expect the coalition will need a few weeks for the coalition to either confirm Čentéš as their candidate or to select another,” Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, told The Slovak Spectator. “After all these experiences and the circumstances of the secret vote, which have indeed been very bitter and unpleasant, the coalition should learn from what has happened and make a very fast decision about a joint candidate, Čentéš or someone else.”
Mesežnikov believes that Čentéš still has a chance.
“It would be good for them to elect the new general prosecutor fast and not let Fico turn to the Constitutional Court with his nonsense statements,” Mesežnikov said.
Otherwise, the Constitutional Court might again do the same thing and order the secret vote to be repeated, he said.
“It was a very scandalous ruling that the Constitutional Court issued, but I believe that they could do it again,” said Mesežnikov. “So the coalition shouldn’t waste time and should elect a general prosecutor immediately after the new voting rules become effective.”
23. May 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová