Smer’s Pellegrini takes up speaker role

PRIME Minister Robert Fico has picked a rising star of his Smer party, Peter Pellegrini, to become the speaker of parliament after Pavol Paška resigned from the key constitutional post on the heels of a scandal, and alleged corruption, surrounding overpriced medical equipment.

New Speaker of Parliament Peter Pellegrini New Speaker of Parliament Peter Pellegrini (Source: SITA)

PRIME Minister Robert Fico has picked a rising star of his Smer party, Peter Pellegrini, to become the speaker of parliament after Pavol Paška resigned from the key constitutional post on the heels of a scandal, and alleged corruption, surrounding overpriced medical equipment.

Pellegrini has changed jobs several times in recent months: from a state secretary at the Finance Ministry he replaced Dušan Čaplovič as education minister, and after a brief stop there he is now moving to parliamentary speaker. Pellegrini, who started his career as assistant to a Smer deputy, earlier this year advanced to the post of deputy chairman of Smer.

The post of education minister now goes to the ministry’s state secretary Juraj Draxler, who in the past worked for the Brussels-based think-tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), and focused on education and science.

Paška’s fall has not calmed public anger over dubious deals in the health-care sector while the protests organised by a number of opposition deputies culminated on November 25 when approximately 5,000 people filled the streets of Bratislava.

The protesters demanded the ban of shell companies in public tenders and the recall of additional people linked to a flawed computer tomography (CT) scanner tender.

Last week, the government pitched a revision to the public procurement law to parliament to lock out shell companies from the tenders; critics call the law toothless.

The new speaker

Pellegrini said he would be guided by tolerance, respect and openness in his new parliamentary job, and has drawn praise from a number of opposition deputies who said they believe that the new speaker will be less confrontational than Paška.

“I am ready for constructive cooperation,” Pellegrini said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that improving the political culture in parliament and the credibility of the institution are a task for both the ruling majority and the opposition.

Of 136 deputies present, 120 supported Pellegrini as speaker. Miroslav Číž was elected to replace Renáta Zmajkovičová, a key Smer official, who stepped down in connection with the CT scandal, in the deputy speaker post.

Most-Híd Chairman Béla Bugár said he hopes that Pellegrini would respect the opposition and make it possible for it to perform its controlling role.

Pellegrini has said he would listen to arguments of the opposition but he expects the same in return.

“People often view parliament only as a political theatre,” said Pellegrini, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
Pellegrini’s appointment came as a surprise, as many expected Culture Minister Marek Maďarič of Smer to take up the post.

Paška’s departure

Paška resigned as speaker of parliament the same night as municipal elections, overshadowing reports on outcomes of mayoral races across Slovakia. Fico, who had been backing Paška since the CT scandal broke, said Paška resigned to protect his family and said he does not see it as a sign that Paška is necessarily done in politics.

The scandal surrounding the CT device has also claimed head of Zuzana Zvolenská as health minister.
The Piešťany Hospital of Alexander Winter purchased earlier this year a CT scanner with a price tag approximately three times higher than similar devices purchased in the Czech Republic. Medical Group SK won the criticised tender after facing a single competitor, the Nitra-based firm Meditecon, which offered a price €300 lower.

While Fico called Paška’s decision the gesture of a statesman, which is rare in Slovakia, opposition MP Daniel Lipšic claims that the CT scandal must not end with resignations only, but it also should continue at a level of criminal responsibility, TASR wrote.

The opposition put Paška in hot water over what they say are his ties to medical companies, especially the Medical Group, which won the CT tender. They also claimed that Paška did not publish his income from the sale of shares in private companies.

The protests

More than 1,000 people gathered in Bratislava to demand Paška’s resignation on November 14 during a rally organised by independent MP Alojz Hlina, following a similar protest in Košice in front of Paška’s house where around 300 people gathered on November 11, according to TASR.

Bratislava saw a rally on November 25 organised by Hlina, Daniel Lipšic of opposition NOVA, Richard Sulík of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Igor Matovič of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) swelling to a gathering 5,000-strong, according to the Sme daily.

Along with a law to limit shell companies in public tenders, the protesters also demand a law on material responsibility of state officials and a special committee overseeing the investigation of the Gorilla file, a transcript purporting to originate from conversations between senior politicians and Penta covertly recorded by the country’s SIS intelligence service between 2005 and 2006 mainly about the privatisation and sale of state property.

They also call for the end of political nominations in health care and the election of the Supreme Audit Office head proposed by the opposition. Moreover, they urged Fico to step down, according to Sme.

Ice hockey player Michal Handzuš and Zuzana Melicherčíková, decorated with the White Crow corruption whistleblower award, as well as a number of actors, also addressed the crowd.

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