Before you read this post I highly recommend that you get acquainted with Péter Polt, who was the supreme prosecutor between 2000 and 2006. I wrote about him at length a year ago. Polt was a Fidesz party hack with practically no prosecutorial experience. He turned out to be an excellent appointment from Fidesz's point of view because after the party lost the elections in 2002 Polt was pivotal in preventing any investigation of the Orbán government's corruption and the alleged criminal cases linked to the government. For weeks now there has been no question that President Pál Schmitt will fulfill his duties and nominate Viktor Orbán's choice, Péter Pold. Thus the "suspense" is over. Polt is Schmitt's candidate.
First, a few words about the current status of the prosecutor's office and the rather unusual designation of the chief prosecutor as "supreme prosecutor." Perhaps you will not be terribly surprised to find out that the current structure dates back to the communist takeover in 1948. Prior to that date the prosecutor's office was not "independent" as it now is, at least on paper. It was, as in most western countries, under the jurisdiction of the minister of justice. Interestingly, the "independence" of the prosecution was introduced because the communist party wanted to have direct access to the prosecutorial hierarchy. As for the silly name "supreme prosecutor," that was also a communist invention borrowed from Soviet practice. Prior to 1945 the chief prosecutor was called the "crown prosecutor."
One of the mistakes made by those responsible for the new constitution and the reorganization of the government in 1989-1990 was that they left the "independence" and the whole structure of the prosecutor's office untouched. Instead of restoring the prosecutor's office to a position subordinate to the minster of justice, they came up with the idea that the "independent" supreme prosecutor should be answerable only to parliament. In plain language, to no one. If the supreme prosecutor did something truly outrageous, and under Polt's six years that happened often, he was hauled into parliament, was questioned, his answers were never accepted, and he went home unscathed. It was a useless exercise.
During the first Orbán government, before the appointment of Polt, Ibolya Dávid (MDF), who was minister of justice between 1998 and 2002, tried to change this impossible situation and abolish the "independent" status of the prosecutor's office. The opposition (MSZP-SZDSZ) fiercely opposed any such move. I think if you asked them today they would readily admit that they erred. Because if the prosecutorial hierarchy were responsible to the minister of justice, the minister could be called on the carpet in case of wrongdoings. He would be responsible. Now, the supreme prosecutor really is supreme.
The second Orbán government never expressed any desire to subordinate the prosecutor's office to the government because this wouldn't serve its purpose. They don't want to take responsibility for anything the prosecutor's office does. They want to hide behind the independence of the office, but at the same time they want someone as supreme prosecutor who is their man and who can take orders.
Only four years have gone by since the present supreme prosecutor took office. But because the president nominated a man who was close to the compulsory retirement age of 70, a new man must be elected. As many commentators noted in 2006, László Sólyom, a supporter of Fidesz, wanted to make sure that in case Fidesz wins the elections in 2010 it will fall to Viktor Orbán's government to elect a new supreme prosecutor; he will not be stranded with one who still has two more years to go.
Viktor Orbán is so enamored with the "independence" of the prosecutor's office that in the proposal they submitted which would change the law governing the status of the supreme prosecutor they suggested that from here on the new man will not be able to be questioned in parliament. And to make sure that Mr. Polt (because they knew from day one that they want to have Polt back) will stay for a long time, they changed the length of his tenure from six years to nine. But that wasn't enough. Currently, a simple majority is sufficient to elect a new supreme prosecutor. However, from here on this appointment will require a two-thirds majority. One round of voting will decide the issue. If the new candidate doesn't receive a two-thirds majority, the current office holder will remain in his post until another candidate receives a two-thirds majority. That is almost impossible. In brief, Péter Polt will be the supreme prosecutor until the age of 70, or even longer, because another change introduced the right of the prime minister to modify the retirement age. Polt at the moment is fifty-five years old. So he will be around for a very long time. I should mention here that this requirement is more stringent than that for electing the president of the republic. Even though on the first ballot a two-thirds majority is necessary, the candidate for president has two more chances to be elected. By the third time around a simple majority suffices.
And no one can do anything to prevent such atrocities. I really don't know what anyone can do. I don't see too many opportunities. I might also add that there were rumors concerning the appointment of the new man to the effect that he must agree to be ready to place Ferenc Gyurcsány in custody. Maybe this is just talk but, given Polt's past, I wouldn't be shocked.