JAROMÍR Čižnár, a former law-school classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, might be only couple days away from becoming Slovakia’s next appointed general prosecutor. After a political and judicial tug-of-war, lasting for over two years, over one of the most powerful posts in the country, Čižnár was elected to the post by ruling Smer party MPs on June 18. The opposition parties did not take part in the secret-ballot parliamentary vote, arguing that the country already has a general prosecutor-elect – Jozef Čentéš – who was elected by parliament in June 2011 but was never officially appointed by President Ivan Gašparovič.
A complaint lodged by Čentéš against the president’s refusal to appoint him is pending at the Constitutional Court, with Čižnár saying that he will step down to make way for Čentéš only if the court rules that Čižnár violated Čentéš’ civil rights by seeking election.
Meanwhile, 60 opposition deputies called on Gašparovič on June 20 to refrain from appointing Čižnár until the Constitutional Court decides over Čentéš’ complaint. The deputies argued that appointing Čižnár might have a long-term negative impact on the stability of Slovakia’s legal system.
“It is irrelevant what happens in the future,” Prime Minister Robert Fico responded on June 19 to media questions about whether his government is prepared for the possibility of the Constitutional Court ruling for Čentéš, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that Čižnár is the legitimately and democratically-elected candidate.
Of the 82 deputies present – all of them members of Smer – every single one voted for Čižnár who must now be formally appointed by President Gašparovič before he can take office.
According to Fico, if the president appoints Čižnár to the post of general prosecutor, and if Čižnár does not do anything illegal, he will serve in the post for the next seven years, the Sme daily reported.
All opposition MPs walked out of the parliamentary chamber just prior to the vote, after debating the election of the general prosecutor on June 18, with Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška from Smer deriding them for “fleeing like rats from a ship”.
“Let’s finally offer Mr President a candidate for whom the people are waiting,” Paška said a few minutes before the vote, as quoted by Sme. He did not specify in what way “the people” had objected to Čentéš, who has faced sustained opposition principally from Gašparovič and Paška’s own Smer party.
The election took place in spite of the fact that the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on a complaint submitted by Čentéš in which he is seeking to have just such a vote blocked. The opposition parties called it a black day for the constitution in Slovakia.
“After a very long time, during which the public had been traumatised by this issue due to the failures and inability of the opposition, Slovakia is close to having a general prosecutor,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, shortly after his party’s MPs elected Čižnár. “A man with high professional and moral credit among the prosecutors has been elected. However, it is necessary to wait for the decision of the president,” Fico added.
While it took Gašparovič almost two years to offer a definitive response to Čentéš’ appointment, it is expected that Gašparovič will appoint Čižnár any day, with his spokesman Marek Trubač saying on June 21 that the president “is aware of the need to fill this post and the new leadership of the general prosecution”, as reported by TASR. However, Trubač also restated that there is no official deadline set for the president in this matter, but this does not mean that the president is not aware of the necessity of proceeding.
“But even if the appointment is to happen, it can take place only after the candidate is present, and Mr Čižnár is leaving for a 10-day holiday,” Trubač added, as quoted by TASR.
The Slovak president is not bound by a specific deadline for appointing the general prosecutor and based on a 2012 decision by the Constitutional Court is entitled, under certain circumstances, to reject parliament’s candidate.
Meanwhile, Paška said he believed that the president would not find anything wrong with Čižnár and would not prevent his appointment to the post, but added that it is up to the president how he proceeds.
Čentéš, the first general prosecutor-elect, who is still awaiting the Constitutional Court’s ruling on his two complaints regarding Gašparovič’s refusal to appoint him, said he would not comment on the election of Čižnár, adding that he would “insist on the reasons for my constitutional complaint from January 2013, in which I proposed to the Constitutional Court to cancel the decision made by the president of the Slovak Republic not to appoint me” as quoted by TASR.
Joseph Daul, the chairman of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party, called on Gašparovič to postpone the appointment of either candidate until the Constitutional Court delivers a verdict.
“I have learned with great astonishment that Slovakia’s socialist MPs yesterday elected their own candidate, the former classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, to the post of general prosecutor, despite the fact that Slovakia already has a legitimate, elected general prosecutor,” Daul said in a statement sent to the Slovak press on June 19. “As a result of this election, Slovakia today has two general prosecutors.”
Daul said he is worried about the negative effect this could have on the functioning of the Slovak constitution and the rule of law.