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Quality of Slovak democracy down

ACCORDING to the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) the recent actions of the Smer party in parliament have harmed the quality of the country’s democracy in recent months, as measured by the think tank’s rating system.

ACCORDING to the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) the recent actions of the Smer party in parliament have harmed the quality of the country’s democracy in recent months, as measured by the think tank’s rating system.

“Scrapping of the opposition draft laws from September 2014 parliamentary session programme … is the worst violation of procedural consensus in Slovak parliamentarianism history since [the country’s creation in] 1993,” says an IVO report referring to the government scrapping 10 proposals submitted by the opposition on September 9.

In the third quarter of 2014, Slovakia’s democracy received a grade of 3.2 (with 1 being excellent and 5 representing failure). In the year-on-year comparison, the index of the quality of democracy dropped by 0.3 percentage points, while in the quarterly comparison it dropped 0.1 percentage point.

The evaluation of democratic institutions and the rule of law dropped by 0.25 points to a score of 3.5 in a quarterly comparison. Other areas – legislation with a grade of 2.75; minorities and human rights protection with a grade of 3.5; independent media and public-service media with a grade of 3 received the same amount of points in the quarterly comparison since positive and negative trends balanced.

The government office refused to comment on results to The Slovak Spectator, saying that IVO President Grigorij Mesežnikov was close with the previous government and that “nobody can believe those results anymore”.

Ignoring the opposition

In September 2014 the fundamentals of procedural consensus between political forces were violated, IVO said, citing the government scrapping 10 proposals submitted by the opposition on September 9. MPs from the ruling Smer party claimed that the proposals were merely part of campaigning before municipal elections scheduled for November 15.

“It is a consequence of applying the method of tyranny of the majority which has become the basic operational mode of Smer-SD’s while executing power…,” the IVO report reads.
Steps such as scrapping proposed bills are disturbing, unprecedented and bad for Slovak parliamentarianism. Such violations did not occur even during Mečiarism, the era that was named after three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, Mesežnikov said on October 14 while presenting IVO barometer to the press, according to SITA

Mesežnikov warned that nobody doubts the right of the majority to discuss and dismiss opposition proposals, but in this case they just did away with them before they were even discussed.

Regarding the judiciary, Mesežnikov called the election and appointment of new Supreme Court President Daniela Švecová and new Judicial Council Chair Jana Bajánková “a promising move”, but reminded that this is still the first step. It will be important how things will continue developing, he added.

He also reiterated that the European Court of Human Rights rejected all three candidates for the post of the judge at the court for the second time. This is a case that can serve as an indication of the current state of the judiciary and tendencies that prevail there, Mesežnikov said, as reported by SITA.

Laws still harm those abroad

When evaluating legislation, the report again mentioned scrapping of the opposition proposals and pointed to the government’s repeated use of an accelerated legislative process. The government should, however, use it only in cases when a shorter process may prevent huge economic damage or human rights violations.

IVO also criticised the Interior Ministry that it has not submitted the draft of the citizenship law to parliament despite its representatives' claim that they had already prepared its wording. Altogether more than 907 people have been deprived of their Slovak citizenship since the amendment went into effect, the Sme daily reported on October 14.

The law was adopted in response to the Hungarian Dual Citizenship Act, which cleared the path for ethnic Hungarians living abroad to gain Hungarian citizenship. Most of those who have lost their Slovak citizenship were granted citizenship in the Czech Republic, followed by Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Problematic decisions of Constitutional Court

The situation in the area of human rights and rights of minorities protection was affected by several problematic decisions of the Constitutional Court which imply that the court sometimes favours political interests before human rights protection, according to IVO. Analyst said that, “it has become part of some kind of informally created political-institutional alliance,” according to SITA.

The report says that it could be seen, for example, in the way the Constitutional Court deals with complaints filed by Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová over the laws pertaining to foreigners. According to her, some measures in the law on the residence of foreigners, as well as a law on asylum, violate the Slovak constitution and international conventions.

“The contested provisions enable the police forces and the Migration Office of the Interior Ministry to justify some of their decisions only by the fact that it is ‘a security interest of the Slovak Republic’,” Dubovcová said, as quoted in the press release on July 22.

The Constitutional Court has already dismissed one motion filed by the ombudswoman, at its March meeting, explaining she was not entitled to submit it. Her office received the decision on July 10.

IVO analysts also pointed to a decision by the Constitutional Court to dismiss a motion brought by a group of MPs over the constitutionality of the citizenship law.

The court at its September 17 session did not say whether or not the law passed under the first Fico government in 2010 is in line with the constitution, but dismissed the measure due to procedural reasons, since the majority of judges - seven of the 11 judges present at the session - did not vote for the motion, the SITA newswire reported.

“Perhaps the judges of the Constitutional Court do not have an opinion over this issue, while Slovak citizens are losing their citizenship against their will,” said Gáborl Gál, the legal representative of the group that submitted the appeal, as quoted by SITA.

On the other hand IVO positively evaluated the decision of General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár who threw out the police’s charge against journalist Dušan Karolyi with libel for his story about a police officer abusing his powers after he went through documents related to the case, the SITA newswire reported on October 1.

Media freedom endangered

Regarding freedom of media, IVO analysts wrote about different opinions among public on financial group Penta entering the media market. Besides buying its way to Petit Press the group purchased two other publishing houses, Trend and 7 Plus, and will thus control periodicals like the Trend business weekly, the Plus Jeden Deň tabloid daily and the Plus 7 Dní tabloid weekly.

Meanwhile, Omédiách.com reported that Penta is working on a number of acquisitions including the purchase of the news-only television TA3. The company CEN, which is the license holder is part of the Grafobal group owner by businessman Ivan Kmotrík.

IVO also warned that repeating approaches of Slovak authorities against journalists such as Karolyi case may potentially endanger their freedom and media plurality. Similarly, the International Press Institute (IPI) see those causes as trying to scare journalists and media so they will rather avoid reporting about such failures.

“IPI Slovakia again points to repetitive action of Slovak judiciary and law-enforcement bodies against media and journalists,” Pavol Múdry of IPI told the press referring on Karolyi’s prosecution, “meaning that if someone points to failures by the police or judicial bodies or persons working for the police, courts or prosecutor’s, office they accuse media and journalists who uncover those failures.”

The culture war

In civil society, analysts point to NGOs criticising drafts of the Construction Act and the law on petition revisions. NGOs were also commenting current situation in Ukraine and behaviour of Slovakia’s representatives in this matter in third quarter of 2014, according to the IVO report.

Further, IVO analysed situation of the referendum prepared by the Alliance for Family (AZR) which has succeeded to collect 400,000 signatures (while only 350,000 signatures are required to launch a referendum) asking to organise a referendum on the traditional family and the form of sexual education at schools.

Several NGOs, Ombudswoman Dubovcová and former vice-chair of Constitutional Court Eduard Bárány has voiced their concern over the wording of the questions. Later, President Andrej Kiska turned to the Constitutional Court to determine whether the questions pertain to fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and international law.

IVO called it a “culture war” forecasting that ongoing conflict of two different conceptions of values will persist.

“We think that this conflict may be an opportunity for civil society to show that it has enough engaged people to be able to contribute to its gradual ceasing instead of further escalation,” the report reads.

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