FOR MOST of the last seven and a half years, Slovakia didn’t know it had a president. There were the occasional up-hill races (preteky do vrchu), some fujara performances and regular visits to football and hockey games. And yes, a few laws were returned to parliament and the nation received the president’s traditional New Year addresses.
But otherwise, Ivan Gašparovič played no real role in public life. His fans could argue that the political system was to blame – the constitution gives the head of state mostly ceremonial roles and even in areas where it does leave the president some room, such as representing the country at international summits, political tradition has given the prime minister the real power. But the fact remains that until recently Gašparovič did far less than he could have – rarely speaking out on important issues, never playing an active role in day-to-day politics, lacking a clear agenda.
Until recently – when he awoke. Gašparovič first refused to appoint the newly-elected general prosecutor. Jozef Čentéš has been waiting for over four months now and it seems unlikely he will get into his post before the parliamentary elections. The president had an excuse for not acting while the Constitutional Court was examining the conditions under which Čentéš was elected. But the court gave its okay weeks ago. And the constitution sets no time limit for appointing candidates, presumably because its authors never anticipated this sort of trouble.
The president’s second big moment came when Iveta Radičová’s government fell. Gašparovič shocked everyone, including the opposition Smer party, when he announced plans to appoint a new cabinet to lead the country up to the early elections. True, the constitution’s guidance as to what should happen after a vote of no confidence was confusing. But there seemed to be a broad consensus that in the absence of a new majority willing to rule, the outgoing government should stay.
In the end, it took a hastily-stitched amendment to the constitution, which not only enabled Radičová to stay in office for a few extra months but gave the president extra competencies – which he is now using for such meaningful purposes as blocking ministers from travelling abroad.
There is a common denominator to all these presidential activities – making the life of the ruling coalition miserable. Radičová and her coalition partners may mourn for the times when it was sports, not politics, at the top of Gašparovič’s agenda. But they only have themselves to blame. Without the large pile of chaos they created, the president would have no hill to climb.
14. Nov 2011 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila