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EDITORIAL

A strong breath of fresh air

SLOVAK President Ivan Gašparovič is quite predictable. Few expected him to quickly appoint Jozef Čentéš as general prosecutor after the Constitutional Court ruled that both a public vote and a secret ballot are legitimate ways for Slovakia’s parliament to choose the person to fill this powerful post.

SLOVAK President Ivan Gašparovič is quite predictable. Few expected him to quickly appoint Jozef Čentéš as general prosecutor after the Constitutional Court ruled that both a public vote and a secret ballot are legitimate ways for Slovakia’s parliament to choose the person to fill this powerful post.

Gašparovič has been justifying his refusal to formally appoint Čentéš, the candidate of the governing coalition elected by parliament to a seven-year term on June 17, by pointing to the case pending before the Constitutional Court. In this way the president extended the reign of the sitting managers at the General Prosecutor’s Office well beyond the expiration of Dobroslav Trnka’s term in February. In the absence of a formally-appointed succesor, Ladislav Tichý, Trnka’s former deputy, automatically became acting general prosecutor – and then didn’t pass on the opportunity to appoint Trnka as his deputy.

Thanks to Gašparovič, who received the backing of Smer boss Robert Fico for his 2009 re-election, Tichý and Trnka have played this game of musical chairs and will continue to occupy those chairs till at least the second half of October. The president said he will decide on officially appointing Čentéš at that time, adding that he is waiting for a copy of the court’s ruling so that he can study it. His office also announced that the president’s schedule is quite packed, including a visit to Indonesia and the Philippines.

Zuzana Wienk of the Fair-Play Alliance watchdog group called on Gašparovič to stop delaying the appointment, which she said stems from “cynical power games aimed at keeping the prosecution under the rule of certain political power circles”. Wienk added that if the president fails to appoint Čentéš in a timely way it can be added to the list of failures that “he already demonstrated as speaker of parliament when he stripped deputy Gaulieder of his mandate”.

The ‘Gaulieder case’ is not very likely to be included in the president’s memoires and it has served as a lightning rod for critics who say the former right-hand man to Vladimír Mečiar should never have been put in the presidential palace. Indeed, the Gaulieder case is a rather sordid tale that will always spoil efforts by Gašparovič to be seen as a guardian of the constitution.

In 1996, when Gašparovič served as speaker of parliament as a nominee of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), he facilitated a vote to strip the mandate from František Gaulieder, an MP from the same party, for criticising the HZDS. Gašparovič accepted a parliamentary committee report stating that Gaulieder had agreed to resign from parliament while Gaulieder publicly denied ever doing so. Gaulieder was stripped of his mandate and a year later the Constitutional Court ruled that this violated the constitution.

Slovakia’s system of prosecution is not only in urgent need of a new person at the top but also of comprehensive reform. And even though the Constitutional Court seems to have cleared the way for Čentéš to take up his post, the court also blocked implementation of a reform amendment passed by parliament in June that would make the entire system more transparent and open to public oversight.

The court’s recent ruling on the reform amendment was in response to multiple objections brought before the court by Tichý, including the new selection procedure for prosecutors. It is also worth noting that Gašparovič’s refusal to appoint Čentéš was based on Tichý’s appeal to the Constitutional Court about the changes in the voting method approved by parliament.

Trnka, who has been desperately trying to get another seven-year term as general prosecutor, chimed in after the court’s ruling that he still believes he should have been declared the winner of the May 17 secret ballot vote in parliament and that his name should have been sent to the president. So now his claim that the votes were incorrectly counted in May and that this violated his right to equal access to an elected position now sits before the Constitutional Court.

This saga, continuing now for half a year, clearly demonstrates the urgent need for thorough reform of a closed prosecution system where people with broad powers want to remain glued to their chairs, want to continue making life-and-death decisions behind closed doors, and never want to be held publicly accountable. That’s task one. A strong breath of fresh air at the presidential palace is task two.


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