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Court stops Slovak election referendum; on Pellegrini. pointing

The Slovak Constitutional Court this week overturned a referendum on early elections launched by opposition parties and trade unions earlier this year.

Such a plebiscite is unconstitutional, the court said in its judgment, as the Slovak constitution does not recognize a referendum to shorten the parliamentary term. Should this option be included in the constitutional text in the future, “such a referendum will be possible,” emphasized judge Jana Baricova.

Nevertheless, the literal interpretation of the constitution by the court was criticized by opposition parties, who described the decision as a “dark day for Slovak democracy” and called for mass protests. Former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini of the Hlas-SD party, a vocal supporter of the referendum, said the verdict was “immoral” and tantamount to “stamping out people’s rights.” Robert Fico, another former prime minister, accused President Zuzana Caputova of breaking the referendum and called on voters to “show their discontent”.

Almost 600,000 people signed a petition calling for a referendum on early elections, but Caputova, whose signature was required for final approval, asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the referendum.

After the facts had been clarified by the court, an unlikely critic of Caputova emerged in the form of Finance Minister Igor Matovic, who expressed his “deep disapproval” of the “malicious act” of President Caputova in a post on social media. “If her progressive small group had collected signatures for the referendum, they would not have thought of allowing the Constitutional Court to block it,” claimed the former prime minister, referring to Caputova’s status as a former vice-chairman of the Progressive Slovakia Movement.

Caputova responded to Matovic’s nagging by asserting her right as president to go to court to rule on constitutional issues. “I find it absurd to apologize for complying with the Constitution,” she noted.

Matovic alleged that the president had effectively stolen the petition’s signatories of the right to political expression. “It’s mean and insidious – a spit in the eyes of 600,000 people,” he argued.

Observers were quick to point out the irony emerging from Matovic’s mouth. The manifesto of the ruling OLaNO movement, led by Matovic, contains an explicit refusal to hold a referendum on early elections. Its sudden turn was quickly ridiculed by social media users.

However, experts consider the court’s decision on the constitutionality of the referendum to be progress. “This is a great victory for direct democracy,” said constitutional lawyer Vincent Bujnak of the medium-sized daily newspaper. After decades of uncertainty, he said, the judges are finally cementing the possibility of dissolving parliament through a referendum – if a clause that prescribes this possibility finds its way into the constitution through a parliamentary vote or another referendum.

In other news this week, police arrested Peter Krupa, a far-right MP from the extremist People’s Party – Our Slovakia (LSNS), after attacking a police officer during a protest at a border crossing with the Czech Republic.

The officer sustained a slight hand injury as a result of Krupa’s attack, the police said. Krupa became aggressive after a verbal argument during a gathering of around 200 people protesting the new stricter regime at border crossings launched by the Slovak authorities in the wake of the spread of the Delta strain of COVID-19. Several checkpoints were closed overnight, much to the despair of the locals who cross the border every day.

Krupa is now being investigated for attacking a public official. “It is absolutely incomprehensible when some people take their aggression out on police officers who are only fulfilling their government duties,” said Police President Peter Kovarik.

Krupa’s arrest came over a series of conflicts between members of the proto-fascist party LSNS and the police. At a protest rally in January last year, LSNS members allegedly attacked and physically beaten several unsuspecting passers-by.

Elsewhere, the former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, who now leads the opposition Hlas-SD party, is accused of accepting bribes of 150,000 euros during his time in the Ministry of Finance. Pellegrini, a highly sought after candidate for the next Prime Minister’s office in all current polls, was named by the former head of the financial administration Frantisek Imrecze, who is himself accused of corruption and now works with the police.

According to news site Topky, Imcreze pointed a finger at Pellegrini and a number of other senior officials whom he claims were implicated in a 2013 virtual cash register corruption plan.

At a hastily arranged press conference, Pellegrini denied all allegations, saying they were part of Finance Minister Matovic’s plan to discredit him and his party. “We will not give in,” Pellegrini assured.


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