Čentéš files complaint with court

JOZEF Čentéš, who was selected by parliament to be Slovakia’s general prosecutor in June, is no longer waiting passively until the subject of his official appointment moves to the top of the to-do list of President Ivan Gašparovič, who said in mid October after the fall of the government that the issue was of tertiary importance for him at that time.

JOZEF Čentéš, who was selected by parliament to be Slovakia’s general prosecutor in June, is no longer waiting passively until the subject of his official appointment moves to the top of the to-do list of President Ivan Gašparovič, who said in mid October after the fall of the government that the issue was of tertiary importance for him at that time.

Čentéš requested a meeting with the president on October 19 to discuss his appointment but was rebuffed and Čentéš has now filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court claiming that his rights have been violated by the president’s failure to appoint him in a timely manner.

“The president will respond to the letter from Mr. Jozef Čentéš within 30 days of its
delivery; however, considering the submission of a constitutional complaint by Mr. Čentéš, he does not see a reason to receive him at the presidential palace,” stated Marek Trubač, the president’s spokesman, as quoted by SITA newswire.

Čentéš’s complaint, filed with the court on November 7, is not the first issue presented to the Constitutional Court this year involving wrangling over the process of choosing and appointing the country’s top prosecutor. Čentéš, who was nominated as a candidate by the four-party ruling coalition, is basing his court challenge on the president’s dilatory approach to an October 5 Constitutional Court ruling that found both recorded public ballots and secret ballots constitutionally valid methods to use when choosing the general prosecutor.

Ladislav Tichý, the acting general prosecutor, and a group of 35 opposition MPs from the Smer party had challenged a modification in the parliamentary rules approved by parliament in May 2011 that changed the voting method from a secret ballot to a recorded vote. Gašparovič had stated that this court case was his reason for refusing to officially appoint Čentéš.

The tug-of-war

The Constitutional Court’s ruling regarding the election method has not ended what has turned into a lengthy tug-of-war between opponents and advocates of the change in the parliamentary rules and apparently on who should occupy one of the country’s most powerful positions.

The ruling coalition had serious problems last year in agreeing on a candidate for the position and then getting its eventual nominee, Čentéš, elected via a secret ballot – a parliamentary vote on December 2 ended with several coalition MPs voting anonymously with the opposition, almost bringing down the government in the process. The ruling coalition then went to considerable lengths to change the rules so as to make the voting public. As it turned out Čentéš was actually elected by a secret ballot on June 17 to serve a seven-year term, with the coalition choosing this method to avoid complications if the Constitutional Court had nixed the change in the voting method.

Čentéš complaint before the court states that his right of access to an elected public office under equal conditions has been violated because the matter has not been handled “without unnecessary procrastination in an appropriate time as well as in the area of equal treatment and protection from discrimination”.

Čentéš is not seeking any monetary compensation but is asking the Constitutional Court to order the president to take action within one month after the court’s ruling becomes effective, SITA reported.

“I do not have any explanation because even though I requested a personal meeting [with the president], he has not received me yet,” Čentéš stated on November 8 when asked by the Sme daily for his interpretation of the president’s delay in the appointment. “I do not know the real reasons because what I have said is still valid: that there is no legal obstacle that should prevent my appointment. It has lasted four and a half months and it seems a very long time.”

Prime Minister Radičová has publicly stated that she sees no reason for Gašparovič’s refusal to appoint Čentéš, noting that the Constitutional Court ruled in another case in September 2009 that Slovakia’s president is not entitled to judge the professional background of nominees because the presidential office is not responsible for a nominee’s job performance.

Fair-Play Alliance, a political ethics watchdog has said the president has no choice but to appoint Čentéš. Its director, Zuzana Wienk, stated that continued delay by the president is part of a cynical power game aimed at “keeping the prosecution under the control of certain power centres”, SITA wrote.

Trnka’s court complaints

The term of the previous general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February 2011 and without a formally-appointed successor, Trnka’s deputy Ladislav Tichý was automatically promoted to become acting general prosecutor.

In July Trnka sought redress from the Constitutional Court, claiming that his right to equal access to be re-elected as general prosecutor had been violated. His complaint argues that the results of a parliamentary vote held on May 17 had been incorrectly tabulated and that parliament should have declared him the winner of that vote and submitted his name to the president for re-appointment. Trnka had 70 votes from the 150 present MPs, 17 had voted against him, 29 abstained, and there were 34 invalid ballots.

Trnka’s complaint, submitted to the Constitutional Court on July 14 as a private individual, asserted that parliament should not have included the 34 invalid ballots in the total number of votes cast and thus his 70 votes constituted a majority.

Trnka had withdrawn his name from the July 17 vote in which Čentéš was elected but he has also challenged that vote, arguing that parliament had not respected an initial ruling of the Constitutional Court that another vote to select a general prosecutor should not be held until the court had decided on the merits of the case before it: whether parliament had the constitutional authority to change the voting method from a secret ballot to a public, recorded vote.

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