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EDITORIAL

Helping hands

IT SEEMS that Robert Fico decided long ago that Jozef Čentéš is not destined to become Slovakia’s general prosecutor. He could have said clearly after he marched to power in 2012 that there was no way that under his government Čentéš, who was chosen by the parties of the current opposition and then lawfully elected by parliament in 2011, would be appointed by President Ivan Gašparovič – who enjoyed massive support from Fico’s Smer party (then in government) during his re-election run in 2009.

IT SEEMS that Robert Fico decided long ago that Jozef Čentéš is not destined to become Slovakia’s general prosecutor. He could have said clearly after he marched to power in 2012 that there was no way that under his government Čentéš, who was chosen by the parties of the current opposition and then lawfully elected by parliament in 2011, would be appointed by President Ivan Gašparovič – who enjoyed massive support from Fico’s Smer party (then in government) during his re-election run in 2009.

By doing so, he would have spared Gašparovič the trouble of coming up with the threadbare justifications he has been forced to offer for refusing to appoint Čentéš for more than two years. He would also have saved the nation a 720-day pantomime that continues to corrode the public’s already dented faith in politicians’ respect for the constitution.

Parliament, which is dominated by Fico’s deputies, will now elect a new general prosecutor, most probably one hand-picked by Fico himself. Indeed Fico announced the vote immediately after learning that the Constitutional Court had suspended an amendment to the law regulating its own operation, thus foiling his plan that the court would apply the famous Bangalore principle to resolve a deadlock over a complaint submitted by Čentéš to the court. The deadlock was a result of both sides in the Čentéš-Gašparovič case challenging all but one of the court’s thirteen judges on grounds of alleged bias. The effect of the legislation would have been that Čentéš’ complaint would have gone back to the originally assigned senate composed of Justices Marianna Mochnáčová, Milan Ľalík and Peter Brňák, despite Brňák and Ľalík having both been excluded from ruling on the case based on Čentéš’ objections to them.

Fico called the revision a ‘helping hand’ that his government had offered the court to resolve the deadlock, failing to understand that ‘helping hands’ of this kind are the last thing courts need from the executive and legislative branches. Of course the story the hard-core Fico believers are served is that the prime minister has been patient with all the unnecessary complaints and has allowed time to all those involved to proceed according to the scenario he considers the right one for the country, or his party. But now, he says, “it has already been too much”.

Fico blames the current opposition parties – in government when Čentéš was elected – for what he alleges were anti-constitutional mechanisms, like changing the secret ballot to an open vote (heaven forbid that voters should know how their MPs have voted!) and forcing its own deputies to vote against their convictions. The sad thing is that the current opposition must shoulder its share of the blame for turning the election of the general prosecutor into a farce. But that does not justify the way the president as well as the Fico government has disregarded the will of parliament.

Perhaps a video that the SITA newswire published a couple of years ago, when Gašparovič was running for re-election, can shed some light on the accord that Fico and Gašparovič seem to have reached over the issue of the election of the general prosecutor. “We are alone here, so I can say that I am practically a member, and my failure would be the failure of Smer,” Gašparovič is reported to have said at a Smer party meeting in Košice – a gathering he was not aware was being recorded. Why would “practically a member” appoint a candidate the boss of his party never wanted to see fill one of the most powerful positions in the country?

Fico assumes that the new election will put an end to the story, but it will not – because it ignores the fact that the Constitutional Court has not yet decided on Čentéš’ complaint and his request for a preliminary injunction by the court to block any new elections until his case is resolved.

Is it that Fico considers decisions by the Constitutional Court so irrelevant that he can pursue his own plan regardless? Or is it that he is so confident that the court will produce a verdict that fits his plans?

Any of these alternatives are dangerous for Slovakia, since this story is no longer just about Čentéš, but the independence of the courts and the level of respect politicians have for their decisions. As a result, this story is far more important for Slovakia than the actual person who finally ends up being installed as general prosecutor.

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