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Coalition elects its candidate as top prosecutor

JOZEF Čentéš was elected as Slovakia’s next general prosecutor in a secret ballot vote in parliament held on June 17 but that action may still not put an end to the increasingly complicated and contentious saga of filling one of Slovakia’s most powerful public positions. Opposition Smer party, whose MPs had boycotted the parliamentary session, called the vote a black day in the country’s history.

Jozef Čentéš(Source: TASR)

JOZEF Čentéš was elected as Slovakia’s next general prosecutor in a secret ballot vote in parliament held on June 17 but that action may still not put an end to the increasingly complicated and contentious saga of filling one of Slovakia’s most powerful public positions. Opposition Smer party, whose MPs had boycotted the parliamentary session, called the vote a black day in the country’s history.

President Ivan Gašparovič announced after the vote that he will not appoint Čentéš, the ruling coalition’s candidate, until the country’s Constitutional Court issues a ruling about the constitutionality of a past decision by MPs to modify the rules of parliamentary order in which they changed the method for selection of the general prosecutor’s position from a secret ballot to a public, recorded vote.

Čentéš received 79 votes from the 80 lawmakers present for the June 17 vote, which in the end was actually conducted by secret ballot. The Speaker of Parliament, Richard Sulík, stated that he believes that it is Gašparovič’s constitutional duty to appoint Čentéš as general prosecutor.

"He was elected in line with all the valid rules," Sulík stated, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that the president’s rationale that he wants to wait for the Constitutional Court ruling is not justified.

"The only thing the Constitutional Court objected to was the institution of an open vote, but we voted in a secret ballot," Sulík argued, noting that he understands that the opposition does not like the fact that Čentéš was elected.

On June 15 the court had issued a provisional ruling that suspended the validity of the change in the rules of parliamentary order until the court reached a definitive verdict on the constitutional merits of parliament’s change in the voting procedure. However, the court’s provisional ruling did not specifically reinstate the previous parliamentary rules which had regulated past secret ballots, meaning that there was a kind of legal limbo about the process that should be followed to select the person to fill one of the country’s most high-level public positions.

A court ruling must be officially published in the country’s collection of laws in order to become effective and the ruling coalition, according to the Sme daily, used this time gap to hold the vote on June 17 because the court’s decision had been announced but not yet been published.

The ruling coalition had gone to considerable lengths over the past six months to change the secret ballot method used previously to select the general prosecutor into a public, recorded vote. But the legislation that changed the parliamentary rules, passed by the MPs from the four-party coalition led by Iveta Radičová, was then challenged before the Constitutional Court by the acting general prosecutor, Ladislav Tichý. Tichý, an assistant prosecutor, advanced to that interim top position when the term of the previous general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February.

"This day can be compared to the Night of the Long Knives on November 3, 1994," said Fico, the chairman of Smer party, as quoted by the TASR newswire, referring to the date when Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) had seized power in all parliamentary committees and completely eliminated opposition parties from any influence in the committees.

Fico stated that Čentéš will only serve the interests of the ruling coalition parties and that this will destroy the independence of the General Prosecutor’s Office. The Smer chairman said his party will do everything possible to make sure that a general prosecutor general is elected by another secret vote, thereby restoring the independence of the office.

Smer had backed the bid of the past general prosecutor, Trnka, for another seven-year term but Prime Minister Radičová has strongly opposed Trnka’s return and had on several occasion stated that she would resign if Trnka is would be re-elected by MPs.

Trnka withdrew his candidacy shortly before the vote on June 17 based on what he called an “unconstitutional situation”.

Čentéš has said that his vision of managing the General Prosecutor’s Office is different from how Trnka has managed it. Čentéš indicated he would not replace all prosecutors but would initiate certain selection procedures.

"I don't want to give any prosecutor preferential treatment; a selection committee will decide [on prosecutors] and the general prosecutor will have the final say," he said, as quoted by TASR.

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