President Danilo Türk underwent a surgical procedure on Tuesday, removing malignant tissue from his prostate, the Office of the President said earlier today. According to the statement the procedure was successful and the President is expected to make a full recovery, returning to his duties next week.
The Prez was under the knife (source)
Wishing good health and speedy recovery to The Prez, pengovsky is somewhat troubled by the post festum announcement of presidential medical woes. The issue in itself is nothing new and has been debated time and again: to what extent is the public entitled to know medical details of their elected officials?. Slovenia has a patchy history on this. First Slovenian president Milan Kučan was relatively free of medical problems (at least those we know of) and during his two-and-a-half terms in office was admitted to hospital only once, due to kidney stone problems. Before Kučan, the first Slovenian Prime Minister Lojze Peterle had his appendix removed while in office.
More known and widely reported was medical condition of the late Janez Drnovšek. In 1999, while still PM, Drnovšek was admitted to hospital and had a cancerous kidney removed. Three years after the operation he ran for president and was elected to the office despite confirming that he was “of slightly weaker health”. His embracing of alternative medicine to combat cancer caught international attention and his changed lifestyle was an inspiration to many in Slovenia and abroad. Nevertheless, Drnovšek died of cancer in late 2007, shortly after leaving office.
And of course, let us not forget the glorious fuck-up years ago while Janez Janša was Prime Minister, when he had his hernia operated. Then, as now, the media were informed post festum, but the fun began when his spokesperson (some say deliberately) made a typo and wrote that the PM had ligament (Slovene: kita) instead of hernia (Slovene: kila) surgery. However, “kita” is also slang for cock (or penis, if you prefer) and you can imagine the roaring laughter that echoed for weeks on end.
And while we’re on the subject, rumours are circulating of Janša being of ill health. Whether or not that is true and if true, what is the exact nature of his medical condition, no one save Janša and those closest to him know. Which brings us again to the question: How much should the public know?
For better or for worse, I think that there is indeed a limit to that. True, there is a certain logic in politicians presenting a clean bill of health before assuming and during their time in office. It’s nice to know that the people we trust to run the country as physically capable of performing the task. If a person in office has a debilitating illness, or a condition which is impairing him or her from doing the job effectively, then the public has the right to know and the politician in question most likely has to step down (hat tip: John Morrow on Quora)
But good health is no guarantee whatsoever that they will execute their office in the public interest. Case in point being President Drnovšek who (in my opinion) was one hell of a president after he changed his lifestyle on account of his disease. I’m not saying he was a bad president before that or even that he was a bad prime minister (his track record remains unbeaten), but fact of the matter is that his presidency has had a profoundning and extremely positive effect after he “turned alternative”.
But there are legal and political issues to consider as well. In case of president Türk’s surgery this means there should be at least some kind of announcement made. True, Slovene president does not have nuclear codes, nor are we at war (save with ourselves, but we don’t need a president for that). But despite everything, the President still is the Commander in Chief. Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates that in case of temporary or permanent incapacitation of the President, his powers are transferred to the President of the Parliament.
I imagine President Türk was under narcosis during surgery which means that for the duration of the procedure the powers would have been transferred to President of the Parliament Pavle Gantar. Hopefully, the necessary paperwork was filled out, but a public announcement was definitely lacking. Some would say that it’s not such a big deal, given the fact that the president’s powers in Slovenia are limited and that it’s a more or less routine procedure. But what if – Bob forbid – something went wrong?
Despite his limited powers, the President has some relatively important duties and obligations regarding the functioning of democratic institutions. For example, he nominates candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court. In fact, it was only yesterday when his nominee for a vacated post at the Constitutional Court Rado Bohinc was not approved by the parliament meaning Türk must go through the entire selection process again. What if he were unable to and the public were to find out through this that the presidential powers were transferred to Gantar?
I realise this looks like nitpicking but normally President Türk is such a stickler for constitutional details that this is quite a serious slip-up on his part and the part of his office. Again: I assume the powers were formally transferred but in the name of transparency, accountability and all the of-the-people-for-the-people-and-by-the-people shit, it would be nice if they would let us know that the Commander in Chief is going under the scalpel.
The same goes for the Prime Minister. Agreed, the PM wields more executive and less formal power, but in his case there is not even a clear line of succession as there is no formal Vice-PM (or something). Technically, the PM can decide which of his ministers can run the daily government business, but should the PM become incapacitated, there is no-one with parliament-mandated powers to run the executive branch. And the situation in Slovenia at the moment is so fragile that PM Borut Pahor reportedly cannot afford to be out of the country for more than three-or-so days.
However, most of these constitutional nuances are lost on general Slovene media. They are more concerned with why The Prez went to Innsbruck, Austria to have the surgery when he has professed his faith in Slovene health system. Well, that’s bullshit, methinks. The Prez can have him self opened up wherever he damn pleases, if he pays for it out of his own pocket. Which he has done in this case. And were he to choose a Slovenian hospital (apparently only Celje hospital is capable of performing a similar robotic surgery), he would be accused of jumping the queue.