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EDITORIAL

A drama in too many acts

THE STORY of Jozef Čentéš’s tortuous (and still uncompleted) path to the general prosecutor’s job would serve as the perfect theme for an absurd theatre play set in an obscure state where people believe that they live in a parliamentary democracy and, by electing their representatives, have some control over how the society is run – but where in fact power is wielded elsewhere, serving interests far removed from the public good. One might perhaps enjoy the show and even applaud the surreal twists in the story line if it did not resemble so closely the farce now being played out for real. Moreover, the story of Jozef Čentéš is far too grave to amuse anyone who wants to have some confidence that the country is being run in line with dependable and firm rules, and not just arbitrary decisions made by individuals who are in office merely because they were the lesser evil.

THE STORY of Jozef Čentéš’s tortuous (and still uncompleted) path to the general prosecutor’s job would serve as the perfect theme for an absurd theatre play set in an obscure state where people believe that they live in a parliamentary democracy and, by electing their representatives, have some control over how the society is run – but where in fact power is wielded elsewhere, serving interests far removed from the public good. One might perhaps enjoy the show and even applaud the surreal twists in the story line if it did not resemble so closely the farce now being played out for real. Moreover, the story of Jozef Čentéš is far too grave to amuse anyone who wants to have some confidence that the country is being run in line with dependable and firm rules, and not just arbitrary decisions made by individuals who are in office merely because they were the lesser evil.

Čentéš has been waiting in vain for one year and four months to be officially appointed to the post of general prosecutor by the country’s president. He was elected by MPs to the position in June last year, in a vote which was ruled legitimate by the Constitutional Court four months later. But he is still waiting because President Ivan Gašparovič has consistently refused to appoint him, displaying considerable creativity in coming up with reasons not to do so.

“The prosecution is led by the general prosecutor, who is appointed or recalled by the president of the Slovak Republic upon the proposal of the Slovak Parliament,” reads the 150th article of the Slovak constitution, offering no further specifics in terms of the time frame within which the president ought to act.

Based on a request lodged by a group of 60 MPs in February this year, the Constitutional Court has now ruled that the president of Slovakia must “deal with” a proposal of parliament to appoint a new general prosecutor if this candidate was elected in accordance with the law, and that the president must either appoint him/her “within an appropriate time frame” or inform parliament of his refusal.

Moreover, the court also found that the president can refuse to appoint a candidate. It said he can do this if the candidate does not meet the legal requirements for the office or if there are “grave reasons” that cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to perform the post in a way that would harm the importance of the institution of the general prosecutor. In effect, the president may now veto parliament’s choice. The court said that when rejecting an appointment the president “shall list reasons for not appointing the candidate, and these reasons cannot be arbitrary”.

Though Čentéš immediately said that he knew of no serious reason which would prevent his appointment, Gašparovič’s first response made very clear that the court’s decision has not come any closer to bringing a conclusion to this sorry saga.

When asked by a television journalist whether he had any reason not to appoint Čentéš, Gašparovič responded, as quoted by SITA newswire: “You are a journalist and you do not know a single reason? For more than a year all the reasons have been reported.”

Independent opposition MP and former interior minister Daniel Lipšic commented that the court’s ruling shifts Slovakia from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. If this were true it would be a gloomy prospect indeed, given the current occupant of the presidential palace. Not all are downcast, however. Renáta Zmajkovičová, the deputy chairwoman of the parliamentary caucus of Smer, the ruling party, commented that the Constitutional Court’s decision shows that the president has a strong mandate. She argued breezily that the wording of the law does not mean that the president is obliged to appoint parliament’s choice of general prosecutor, and stated that Čentéš’ election was “undemocratic”.

Some have suggested that perhaps the ground is being prepared for Robert Fico to move into the presidential palace once his prime ministerial ambitions fade. More likely, this is not so much a conspiracy as a display of the arrogance of power without any real pretence of justification, turning even the constitution into a plastic substance that can be twisted, stretched or squeezed to meet the needs of those in power.

There are many options for future plot developments in this absurd drama, but one thing is certain: if the president refuses to appoint Čentéš and the ruling Smer party elects its own candidate in parliament – who will then be smoothly appointed by the president – it will only go to show that it is not enough to have a constitution defining parliamentary democracy unless politicians are prepared to defend it.

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