In many constitutions, presidents have the constitutional power/duty to sign into law the proposal to appoint people to various political offices. In other words, another institution – perhaps the PM – nominates the person to the particular office and the president signs off on the nomination, thus officialising the appointment. The wording of this presidential power/duty in the constitution is almost always in the present indicative tense i.e. “the president appoints …”. However, the use of this tense raises the question of whether the president has the right not to sign off on the nomination.
Art. 102 (1) t of the Slovakian Constitution states that the President of Slovakia ”appoints and recalls judges, Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic, General Prosecutor …”. The appointment of a new General Prosecutor has been causing a political stir for some time now.
The Slovak Spectator reports that President Ivan Gašparovič has refused to sign off on the proposed appointment of Jozef Čentéš as General Prosecutor. The precise details of the case need not detain us. However, the key point is that in June 2011 parliament passed a resolution naming Mr Čentéš to the office. The president refused to make the appointment arguing that the parliamentary vote was not properly conducted. The issue then went to the Constitutional Court in October 2012. The Court ruled that the parliamentary vote was valid. However, it also, in effect, granted the president the power to veto the appointment “if the candidate does not meet the legal requirements for the office or there are ‘grave reasons’ that cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to perform the job”. So, the Court did not give the president a blanket power to refuse a nomination, but it did make it clear that there were conditions under which the president could refuse nominations.
So, the Court’s ruling meant that the use of the present tense in the constitution did not imply that the president’s signature had to be automatic. In effect, the Court increased the veto power of the president.
To bring the story up to date, President Gašparovič has now formally written to parliament rejecting the nomination. He has provided a list of reasons, but these are contested both by the opposition parties, who were in office when the nomination was made, and by Mr Čentéš. Interestingly, the new PM, Robert Fico, did not condemn the president’s actions.