BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's ruling Smer party chief Robert Fico gave up a bid to lead the country's top court on Tuesday and warned a coalition partner the government could be in peril if it voted later with the opposition on appointing other judges.
Fico, who has a law degree, has sought the chairmanship of the Constitutional Court after being ousted as prime minister last year by protests against corruption sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist.
Fico's chances looked bleak after a junior partner in the three-party governing coalition, the Most-Hid party representing mainly the country's Hungarian minority, refused to back Fico's candidacy, doubting his suitability for the role.
Fico, 54, was in power in 2006-2010 and 2012-2018 and is still seen as driving policy behind the scenes while party ally Peter Pellegrini serves as prime minister.
"It is impossible to sit behind one table when Most-Hid repeatedly puts its party interests above responsibility for the country," he told reporters.
"If, in today's vote, some candidates go through by the joint votes of the opposition and Most-Hid, it will be an unprecedented violation of the coalition agreement with serious consequences for the functioning of the cabinet," he said.
Under Slovak law, parliament picks two candidates for each court position and the president, Andrej Kiska, a long-term rival of Fico, chooses one from each pair.
The Constitutional Court rules on whether legislation passed by parliament and judgements by lower courts are in line with the constitution.
It could become temporarily dysfunctional if parliament or the president fail to pick replacements for the nine out of 13 judges whose terms end on Feb. 16.
Last year's murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated political corruption and EU subsidy fraud, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova triggered the biggest protests since the 1989 fall of communism against sleaze in politics.
Kiska will step down in June, having said he would not seek re-election in an election in March. Fico said he believed only a newly elected president would have the legitimacy to fill the court.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams)