Harabin urgently calls for vote

THOUGH, Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin had very little to formally do with the election of Slovakia’s next president, his name kept regularly popping up during the campaign as a symbol of the decline of the country’s judiciary. That may not stop him from trying to guarantee his re-election before the new president takes office.

THOUGH, Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin had very little to formally do with the election of Slovakia’s next president, his name kept regularly popping up during the campaign as a symbol of the decline of the country’s judiciary. That may not stop him from trying to guarantee his re-election before the new president takes office.

On April 2, just four days after the second round run-off of presidential elections that saw Robert Fico lose to philanthropist Andrej Kiska, Harabin rushed to set the date for the elections for the Supreme Court top post for May 19.

During the election campaign, even Fico said that he would not recommend Harabin, whose five-year term ends in June, to run for re-election, arguing that he “divides the judiciary”. If Harabin is toying with the idea of re-election he would only have a chance if he gets elected and appointed before Kiska takes over the presidential palace.

“As for the appointment of the chairman of the Supreme Court, if Mr Harabin would be proposed to me, I would use all formal and informal steps to prevent him from being appointed,” Kiska told the public service Slovak Radio shortly after winning the race.

Meanwhile President Ivan Gašparovič’s spokesman Marek Trubač, according to the Pravda daily, called Harabin’s eventual appointment a “theoretical issue”.

Now, candidacies to the top post of the Supreme Court are being sought until April 28. Members of the Judicial Council, professional judge organisations, the assembly of the Supreme Court judges, a Supreme Court judge as well as the justice minister, can propose a candidate. The Judicial Council elects the president at a public session. If the 18-member Judicial Council fails to elect the new president in May, the next round can be held in 45 days, the Sme daily noted, suggesting that this would reduce Harabin’s chances of being appointed.

While Harabin after the last session of the Judicial Council has remained tight-lipped about his next career step, he panned the planned constitutional changes to the judiciary, calling them political business. Slovakia’s main problem is not the judiciary, but the economy, Harabin said.

“The judges did not privatise, the judges did not steal, they did not run tenders and did not tunnel EU funding,” said Harabin, as quoted by the SITA newswire on March 31.

Fico, amid his presidential campaign, announced that “we are losing patience with the Slovak judiciary”, and has promised reforms, with his political opponents and critics of the judiciary remaining sceptical and seeing the initiative as a campaign stunt.

Shortly before the second round of the race, parliament rushed to debate a package of changes to the constitution sealed by an unexpected pre-election union of Smer and the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). The two parties have pushed through a joint constitutional amendment which includes both the definition of marriage, drafted by the KDH, and the judiciary changes authored by Fico and Smer to a second reading in parliament.

Smer needed opposition support to pursue its plans for the judiciary, since any constitutional amendments require 90 votes in parliament and Smer holds just 83 seats. The KDH has eight MPs, enough to reach a constitutional majority.

Fico, during his six years in the post of prime minister, has been resistant to discussions on the state of the judiciary.

The revision, among other things, includes a proposal to separate the post of the head of the Judicial Council and the Supreme Court president, both held currently by Harabin. He warns that the move might cause chaos if there are two people responsible for managing the judiciary, SITA reported.

“This is absolute stupidity, what the politicians started performing,” Harabin said, pointing to the Czech Republic, where these positions are separate and the public trust in the judiciary is lower than in Slovakia, he said.

Harabin warned that such a person would have to be paid and for that money several judges could work on solving many cases, according to SITA.

Smer did not support the judiciary-related constitutional amendments drafted by opposition MPs even though they were submitted to the parliament earlier than Smer submitted its own proposal hand-in-hand with the KDH.

One of the rejected amendments was the division of the Judicial Council head and the Supreme Court president post, which was proposed by opposition MP Lucia Žitňanská. She proposed this change in the past too, when she served as justice minister, but failed to convince Smer MPs to support it.

Smer also blocked the proposal to scrap the criminal immunity of judges, which was submitted by Most-Híd MPs Gábor Gál and Andrej Hrnčiar, and the proposal authored by MP Daniel Lipšic proposing security clearances to be introduced for new candidates who want to become judges.

One year ago, when the opposition initiated a special session on the state of the judiciary, Smer blocked the session, with Fico calling it unnecessary. Žitňanská called the Smer-KDH judiciary bill dangerous.

“Today there is no legitimate reason to have this purposive revision to the constitution discussed ahead of the second round of presidential elections,” Žitňanská said. The only reasons for speeding up the debate are partisan ones and thus evoke concerns, she told SITA.

As for the elections of the head of the two top judicial bodies, the Judicial Council and the Supreme Court, Harabin’s office sent a brief memo to the Sme daily: “Mr Chairman has not dealt with the candidacy. The elections will be held based on the valid legal state. The date will be announced to the public.”

Sme speculated that there may be just two more meetings left for Harabin before Gašparovič leaves office on June 15 as the Judicial Council meets monthly, mostly at the end of the month.

Judges from the For an Open Judiciary (ZOJ), an initiative critical of Harabin, already have their own preferred candidate but declined to make the name public for now, said Katarína Javorčíková, chair of ZOJ. The new president should be deciding on the appointment of the Supreme Court president, she told Sme.

Amid protests by political ethics groups opposing Harabin’s desire to become Supreme Court president, the Judicial Council almost unanimously elected him to that post in June 2009. Harabin, who in 2006 was nominated as justice minister by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), also went straight on to serve as the head of the Judicial Council that oversees the operation of all courts in Slovakia.

He won the votes of 15 members of the 17-member Judicial Council, while his opponent, then Supreme Court justice Eva Babiaková, did not receive a single vote. Gašparovič officially appointed Harabin as Supreme Court president shortly after the balloting.

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