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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Zemanokracia

THE STORY of the prime minister’s chief of staff who let the military intelligence service spy on her boss’ wife, possibly out of jealousy, seemed impossible to beat. But then the Czechs came up with something even more absurd: President Miloš Zeman’s decision to appoint his own prime minister without any regard for the opinion of parliament. Sadly, the beginning of Zemanokracia, a term coined by the Czech media, is not something that Slovaks can only joke about.

THE STORY of the prime minister’s chief of staff who let the military intelligence service spy on her boss’ wife, possibly out of jealousy, seemed impossible to beat. But then the Czechs came up with something even more absurd: President Miloš Zeman’s decision to appoint his own prime minister without any regard for the opinion of parliament. Sadly, the beginning of Zemanokracia, a term coined by the Czech media, is not something that Slovaks can only joke about.

In recent months, Slovakia too has seen a significant strengthening of presidential powers at the expense of its parliament. Just a few months ago it would have seemed impossible for the head of state to refuse to appoint a lawfully-elected general prosecutor. And there are two reasons to believe it will not end there. Firstly, Slovakia’s constitution grants the president much wider powers than those enjoyed by his Czech counterpart. In the Czech Republic, if two premiers appointed by the head of state fail to gain the confidence of legislators, the third pick is made by the speaker of parliament. In Slovakia there is no limit to the number of appointments made by the president, and the power to appoint the prime minister is never transferred to anyone else.

A government without the approval of parliament can rule for an indefinite period of time and during that period it has to share more of its power with the president. In theory, a Slovak president can appoint a cabinet of his choosing and leave it in place until the next elections, and there is nothing that parliament can do. Yes, the Constitutional Court can step in. But as we have seen in the case of unsuccessful general prosecutor-elect Jozef Čentéš, the court is better at becoming paralysed than making actual decisions.

The second problem is that the future president will most likely have higher ambitions and be more active than Ivan Gašparovič, who is known chiefly for attending sporting events. Current Prime Minister Robert Fico has still not confirmed whether he will run, but if he does, he is likely to win. Once he takes over, presidential powers may be stretched to their constitutional limits, which have never been tested. And Slovakia will see yet another form of Ficocracy.

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