Banners, leaflets and audiovisual presentations will not be allowed during parliamentary sessions any more, as MPs passed an amendment to Parliament’s Rules of Procedure.
Moreover, there will be time limits on the speeches of legislators, parliamentary vice-chairs and ministers, while the time allotted to the president, prime minister and parliament's speaker will not be restricted. The parliament's speaker will also be allowed to launch disciplinary proceedings against unruly MPs, according to the rules passed on October 26, the TASR newswire wrote.
The amendment proposed by coalition MPs from Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and Most-Híd was adopted by 79 affirmative votes. All lawmakers present from Smer, SNS, Most-Híd as well as Alena Bašistová (opposition Sieť party) and all those who have left the Boris Kollár-Sme Rodina party voted in favour.
The bill was passed at its second reading with multiple changes proposed by MPs Gábor Gál, Peter Kresák (both Most-Híd) and Tibor Bernaták (SNS). Legislators will be allowed to register for a debate verbally as well as in writing and so will have the opportunity to speak twice on the same matter. However, they will have 20 minutes under written registration and ten minutes under the verbal one. The original proposal included just one option for registration.
Legislators speaking on behalf of a caucus will have 30 minutes to make their points, while those who are responsible for submitting a proposal will have unlimited time. Moreover, ministers and parliamentary vice-chairs will also have only 20 minutes to speak. An exception will be accorded to them if they face a call for their dismissal.
In addition, the amendment has introduced a ban on banners, posters, leaflets and other audio-visual presentations as well as on all materials promoting one political party or another. Legislators will also be prohibited from taking photographs, making sound or audio-visual recordings or facilitating any kind of audio-visual transmission of parliamentary sessions. Only the Parliament Office and media will be allowed to do this.
With respect to the matter of “disturbances” during a parliamentary session, the proposal approved is not as strict as the previous one. Those who interrupt a session will first be warned, and only if they continue with such behaviour will they be ousted from the assembly. However, if they still do not comply, the chairperson will not have to suspend the session, but will file a motion for disciplinary proceedings against the offending legislators that could lead to a fine worth several thousand euros.
The opposition MPs have not agreed with the changes. They fear that the coalition will take advantage of the new rules and use them against them. The opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and OĽaNO-NOVA MPs call on President Andrej Kiska not to sign the amendment to Rules of Procedure.
Opposition is unhappy, feels muzzled
The opposition has filed a motion to the Constitutional Court on this matter and has promised to turn to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg if these changes are applied in practice.
“Unfortunately, and despite the opposition’s resistance, the coalition approved a law that is aimed at muzzling us,” OĽaNO-NOVA MP Veronika Remišová said, as quoted by TASR. “They want to turn parliament into an automatic voting machine that will approve only coalition proposals.” She suggested that if the Opposition brings banners to a session and is fined for doing so, it will turn to the ECHR.
“This court has already said that members of a political minority have the right to express their views in a non-verbal way as well,” Remišová explained. “I’m perplexed that such a law that goes against the freedom of expression was passed by the coalition majority. I regret it; it’ll remain written in the history of our democracy forever.”
SaS caucus chair Natália Blahová noted that persons presiding over sessions will either ignore this law and won't elicit fines, or they will charge them and we will end up in a democratic cesspool.
Meanwhile, OĽaNO-NOVA leader Igor Matovič plans to continue using visual props during his speeches.
On the other hand, Speaker of Parliament Danko (SNS) praised the step, opining that parliament must lead by example in their manners of proper behaviour and also tackle the problems that are bedevilling people. According to his own words, Danko feels a responsibility to turn parliament into such an institution.
Therefore, the chair is glad to see the Rules of Procedure he sponsored passed by the House.