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MPs amend constitution to plug gap

THE CRISIS that erupted after parliament failed to express its confidence in the government of Iveta Radičová in a vote on October 11 not only revealed deep disagreement within the governing coalition over core European issues – it also threw an unforgiving light on Slovakia’s constitution. The document was unable to provide an unambiguous answer to the question of what should follow the dismissal of a government. As a result, politicians agreed to amend Slovakia’s basic law.

THE CRISIS that erupted after parliament failed to express its confidence in the government of Iveta Radičová in a vote on October 11 not only revealed deep disagreement within the governing coalition over core European issues – it also threw an unforgiving light on Slovakia’s constitution. The document was unable to provide an unambiguous answer to the question of what should follow the dismissal of a government. As a result, politicians agreed to amend Slovakia’s basic law.

Parliament wasted no time in carrying out a plan which party leaders agreed with President Ivan Gašparovič on Thursday, October 20. Just one day later, parliament on Friday passed an amendment which allows the president to charge a dismissed government with ruling the country until new elections are held.

In line with the agreement, MPs of all the former coalition parties and the opposition party Smer voted in favour of the amendment.

President Gašparovič and Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský both signed the amendment into law on Monday, and on October 25, two weeks after it was voted down by parliament, the government of Iveta Radičová was officially dismissed from office by the president. Immediately afterwards, President Gašparovič, following the new rules, appointed Radičová and her cabinet to carry on in their offices until a new government, which will emerge after the March 2012 general election, is appointed. Radičová, who in the meantime announced that she would not run in that election, agreed to assume the post of interim prime minister and lead the country until March “for the sake of putting an end to the chaos and insecurity”.


Cabinet's limited authority



The interim cabinet will, however, have only limited competencies, according to the text of the constitutional amendment.

The cabinet still has the power to draft laws and issue cabinet orders, to draft the state budget and the final state balance, and to decide on international treaties submitted to the cabinet by the president. The cabinet also retains the power to appoint and dismiss people from state posts, including three members of the Judicial Council; to decide on proposals to announce a state of war and mobilisation; and to send Slovak armed forces abroad for humanitarian purposes, and on training or peacekeeping missions, but all these steps have to be approved by the president.

Radičová’s cabinet thus will not be able in the interim period to decide on “important measures to secure economic and social policies” or important issues of internal or foreign policy; nor will it be free to file motions with the Constitutional Court to inspect the constitutionality of international treaties.

“The competencies are constitutionally very strong,” said Speaker Hrušovský, of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), as quoted by the Sme daily.

However, the opposition does not see the competencies of the interim cabinet as particularly strong. Smer politicians, particularly the party’s leader Robert Fico, have repeatedly stated that all the cabinet will be doing is providing “heat and light”.

“No privatisation, no big laws that would change the tax and payroll tax system,” Fico said, as quoted by the Sme daily.


A stronger president



The new text of the constitution significantly increases the power of the country’s president. But since these wider powers only apply in the event there is an interim government this does not represent a problem, according to the head of parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, KDH MP Radoslav Procházka.

“It’s alright, because it is limited to a situation in which the cabinet loses the confidence of parliament,” Procházka told Sme. “And the only central body with a direct mandate from the voters besides parliament is the president of the republic.”

President Gašparovič has made it clear that he plans to exercise his new powers to oversee the cabinet and its limited competencies.

“Mr President will be in contact with the prime minister, and he will definitely consult with the ministers too, since he cares that the state functions well also in this interim period until the new government is appointed following the March 2012 elections,” the president’s spokesperson Marek Trubač said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Prime Minister Radičová said she would consult with the head of state if the cabinet intended to take any decision that would exceed the competencies granted to it under the constitution. However, she said she did not expect any such situation to arise, since she considers the present competencies to be sufficient, TASR wrote.

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