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Smer moves to elect new chief prosecutor

THE RULING Smer party has picked Jaromír Čižnár, a former law-school classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, as its candidate to fill one of the most powerful positions in the country: that of general prosecutor. However, the opposition parties insist that the country already has a general prosecutor: Jozef Čentéš, whom parliament elected back in June 2011 but whom President Ivan Gašparovič has since refused to appoint. Though the opposition says it will ignore the vote, Smer has enough seats to elect Čižnár in the secret parliamentary ballot scheduled for June 18.

THE RULING Smer party has picked Jaromír Čižnár, a former law-school classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, as its candidate to fill one of the most powerful positions in the country: that of general prosecutor. However, the opposition parties insist that the country already has a general prosecutor: Jozef Čentéš, whom parliament elected back in June 2011 but whom President Ivan Gašparovič has since refused to appoint. Though the opposition says it will ignore the vote, Smer has enough seats to elect Čižnár in the secret parliamentary ballot scheduled for June 18.

Prime Minister Fico has now stated on several occasions that “there is no constitutional obstacle which would prevent the election of a new general prosecutor”, and announced his intention to elect another general prosecutor.

The election will take place regardless of the fact that the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on a complaint by Čentéš in which he is seeking to have such a vote blocked. The opposition says that if the vote is held, June 18 will go down in history as a black day for democracy in Slovakia.

“Prosecutors have picked among themselves Jaromír Čižnár in a very unambiguous way to be the candidate for the general prosecutor, considering his professional and human qualities,” Fico said in a statement on June 13.

Meanwhile the Council of Prosecutors, which represents the interest of prosecutors under the General Prosecutor’s Office, said on June 11 that it would welcome a timely solution to the unfavourable situation in which Slovakia remains without a general prosecutor. Back in January, the council recommended Čižnár, the Bratislava regional prosecutor, for the post. He responded that he would not confirm his candidacy until he learned whether the Constitutional Court intended to issue an injunction based on Čentéš’ complaint. The council, which has since been re-elected, has not been asked for a fresh opinion on Čižnár’s candidacy, according to the SITA newswire.

“We proceed based on the recommendation of the Council of Prosecutor from January this year,” said the chairman of the parliamentary constitutional committee, Smer MP Róbert Madej, who submitted the candidacy to parliament shortly before 16:00 on June 13, the deadline for nominations.

Madej argued that Čižnár was a candidate “who fulfils the professional and moral qualities for performing this significant post”, SITA reported.

Special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik said he considered Čižnár to be the most suitable candidate for the post of general prosecutor.

“I think that the Office of General Prosecutor - after two years when it has not had its top post filled and has become a target of different attacks, be they power or political fights - deserves a general prosecutor who will restore its credibility,” Kováčik said, as quoted by SITA.

Kováčik described Čižnár as a capable person who also is a “career prosecutor who over the decades, [based on] his uncompromising nature and sense for justice and professional qualities, has gained the respect of colleagues”.

On the morning of June 13 the TASR newswire reported that Čižnár had still not agreed to stand, while in an interview published the same day by the Pravda daily, he was quoted as saying that over the previous two days he had been personally contacted by six of the seven other regional prosecutors who “literally appealed on me to accept the offered candidacy for the sake of the whole department”.

Former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská, however, insisted that the vote would be only “an illusion of a selection process” because it has been known for some time that after Gašparovič refused to appoint Čentéš, Čižnár would become Smer’s candidate, even before “at the request of Smer, the Council of Prosecutors had approved his name”.

“Robert Fico wants his general prosecutor at any price,” Žitňanská said in a release sent to media.

The leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Ján Figeľ, said “a new totalitarianism” was emerging and appealed to all “fair and decent prosecutors” including Čižnár, to avoid joining “Smer’s political game”, SITA wrote.

Fico derided the opposition criticism as an expression of memory lapse and endless hypocrisy, adding that those who “literally broke the back” of democracy are now talking about its potential subversion. Fico said that the “absolute culmination” of this was the adoption by the then ruling centre-right coalition of a law which made possible an open vote to select the general prosecutor, according to Erik Tomáš, director of the government’s press department.

SDKÚ leader Pavol Frešo said that he was considering a further legal step pertaining to the election of the top prosecutor – but did not specify what he had in mind.

“We have found something that has not been used yet,” Frešo said, as quoted by SITA, adding that legal proceedings at the Constitutional Court are strong, but that Smer ignores them. He conceded that Smer might ignore the unspecified legal step that he was considering – but said that in that case Čižnár’s election would be a purely political nomination.

Frešo compared the election of the general prosecutor to the case of one-time deputy for Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) František Gaulieder under the government of Vladimír Mečiar.

In 1996, when Gašparovič was serving as speaker of parliament as a nominee of the HZDS, he organised a vote to strip renegade HZDS MP Gaulieder of his parliamentary mandate after the latter had criticised the party. Gašparovič accepted a parliamentary committee report stating that Gaulieder had agreed to resign his seat despite Gaulieder publicly denying that he had ever done so. Gaulieder was stripped of his mandate; a year later the Constitutional Court ruled that this violated the constitution.

Čentéš’ two-year wait

The process to find a new general prosecutor began in late 2010, a few months before the term in office of Dobroslav Trnka, the incumbent, was due to expire. The four-party centre-right coalition led by Iveta Radičová failed to agree on a single candidate, while Trnka, whose re-election Radičová had publicly opposed, gained the support of opposition MPs. After a secret ballot in early December 2010 in which Trnka came within a single of vote of being elected, the governing parties moved to change the parliamentary rules to allow a public vote. Meanwhile, they settled on Čentéš as their preferred candidate.

After a series of parliamentary manoeuvres in late 2010 and early 2011 in which open balloting was approved – but then challenged Fico and other Smer MPs at the Constitutional Court – Čentéš was ultimately elected in June 2011, ironically via a secret ballot. However, President Gašparovič then declined to formally appoint him, citing various Constitutional Court cases that had been brought relating to Čentéš’ election. In October 2011 the Constitutional Court ruled that both secret and open ballots were legitimate means for parliament to elect the general prosecutor. Finally, in late 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that the president has the right to refuse to appoint parliament’s choice of general prosecutor, but that he must cite good reasons for doing so. At the very end of 2012, Gašparovič sent a letter to the speaker of parliament in which he formally rejected Čentéš. Čentéš promptly appealed his decision to the Constitutional Court, claiming that his rights had been infringed, but the case became bogged down after he and Gašparovič between them challenged 12 of the court’s 13 judges on grounds of alleged bias.

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