Slovakia’s Dzurinda Gets a Second Chance as Prime Minister

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Slovakia’s Dzurinda Gets a Second Chance as Prime
Minister

After rapid post-election coalition talks,
Mikulas Dzurinda has emerged as Slovakia’s new prime minister. This
will be Dzurinda’s second consecutive term in office, and gives him
the chance of leading Slovakia into both the European Union and
NATO.

Talks on the formation of the government and its
program were completed within two weeks of the general elections,
which ended on 22 September. Under the constitution, 30 days are
allowed.

The speed of the turnover in part reflects the
degree of pre-election agreement between the coalition parties: All
four–the Slovak Democratic and Christian Coalition (SDKU), the
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the Party of the Hungarian
Coalition (SMK), and the new Alliance of New Citizens (ANO)–had
said before the elections that they were willing to cooperate, and
their platforms showed a great degree of compatibility.

It also reflects a consolidation in Slovak
politics, as the elections removed a number of small parties. How
smooth the talks were is unclear, as very few details of the
coalition negotiations were leaked out to the public.

None of the four coalition parties finished
first in the popular vote. The winner was controversial former
prime minister Vladimir Meciar. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster,
as required by the constitution, asked Meciar and his Movement for
Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) to try to form a government. However,
the HZDS, which collected 19.5 percent of the vote and will have 36
seats, failed to find a coalition partner. Meciar refused to
negotiate with the Communist Party (11 seats), while the
third-strongest party–Smer (25 seats)– refused to link up with
Meciar.

Schuster then asked Dzurinda, whose SDKU came
second with 15 percent of the vote, to form a government. Four days
later Dzurinda appeared before the public to announce that he had
succeeded in forming a coalition cabinet.

Although the new coalition will enjoy only a
slender three-vote majority in the 150-seat parliament, political
analyst Grigorij Meseznikov believes its chances of forming a
stable government are high, as “three members–the SDKU, KDH, and
SMK–know each other very well, [and] ANO has some good
professionals.”

In addition to Dzurinda, three ministers will be
returning to their former positions: Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan
(SDKU), Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky, and Environment Minister
Laszlo Miklos (both SMK). The new finance minister, Ivan Miklos,
was formerly a deputy in the ministry, while former Interior
Minister Ivan Simko will become the new defense minister.

EU AND NATO WELCOME ELECTION RESULTS

If Meseznikov’s optimism proves warranted,
Dzurinda, who expended much energy in the past four years trying to
keep together a fragile, broad coalition, should have an easier
task this time. This new stability comes at a crucial phase for the
country: In November, NATO is due to decide which countries to
invite to join. EU leaders are then expected to issue invitations
when they meet in December in Copenhagen.

The signs look positive for the pro-Western
Dzurinda government. Both the EU and NATO had openly campaigned
against Meciar, warning that his return could jeopardize the
country’s chances of gaining a seat in either organization. On 28
September, after the latest NATO meeting in Warsaw, the Czech
ambassador to NATO, Karel Kovanda, told the daily SME that there
had been no discussion about new members.

“I think it was because there is no doubt about
whom to invite,” Kovanda said.

The president of the European Commission, Romano
Prodi, made similarly positive noises on 26 September, telling the
news agency SITA that he was “satisfied with the results of the
elections, which clearly demonstrated the will of the Slovak people
to enter the European Union.”

More indications of the EU’s thinking will come
on 9 October, when the European Commission publishes its annual
progress report on the applicant countries.

On the domestic front, the politics of the new
government will be right-of-center, making it the only Visegrad
country (the others are the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland)
without a socialist or social democratic government.

Topping the list of priorities are social and
economic reforms, including reform of the pension system and health
care. Dzurinda’s new administration also aims to cut taxes, with
the ultimate goal of introducing a flat tax. The government also
moved quickly in its effort to slim down government by axing four
ministerial posts (including three deputy prime ministerships).

One of the demands sacrificed in the coalition
talks was the Hungarian coalition’s call for compensation for
Hungarians who were forced out of Czechoslovakia after the war at
the order of Czechoslovak President Eduard Benes.

“That would mean to open the Benes Decrees, and
that would have great international consequences,” Dzurinda told
the media on 4 October.

However, the ethnic Hungarians secured a promise
to create a separate university for the Hungarian minority and a
position of deputy prime minister. In addition, the agriculture
minister will be an ethnic Hungarian–a post the party had
particularly coveted, as most Slovak Hungarians live in the
agricultural south. The party’s leader, Bela Bugar, described this
as “a very reasonable compromise,” although he refused to discuss
with TOL the nature of the behind-the-scenes discussions.

More controversial, though, is the allocation of
the Culture Ministry to ANO. The party’s leader, Pavol Rusko, owns
the country’s leading private television station, Markiza, and the
culture portfolio gives the party responsibility for the media,
including the publicly owned national television and radio
stations. Although Rusko has promised to give his shares in
Markiza, in his words, “to a close person, but not to any close
relative” and nominated “a non-Markiza” man, Rudolf Chmel, for the
post, questions are being asked about possible conflicts of
interest.

Transparency International Slovakia has
criticized the decision, but Dzurinda has played down the
possibility of conflicts of interest, arguing that “we all know who
comes from where and where a possible conflict of interest could
occur. When voting about laws, the agreement of all parties will be
necessary.”

ANO also received one other portfolio, health.
This is another valuable trophy for Rusko, who had made health care
the cornerstone of his campaign.

Dzurinda’s SDKU will occupy six ministries,
including the key finance and foreign ministries. The interior and
education ministers will be Christian Democrats, as will be the
head of parliament.

The results of the elections appear to have
satisfied the electorate. The Institute of Public Affairs says that
45 percent of Slovaks were satisfied with the result of the
election, while 30 percent were disappointed. Slovaks now expect
the new government to lead them into NATO and the EU, boost foreign
investment, cut Slovakia’s high unemployment rate, and improve
education and health care.

THE OPPOSITION

Leading the opposition will be the HZDS.
However, it remains to be seen whether Meciar will continue to head
the HZDS. The party, which split in two just months before the
election, faces new tests. It will meet to examine its election
campaign amid suggestions that Meciar might face a challenge. In
1998, Meciar retreated from political life, handing his
parliamentary mandate to his close aide and secret-service chief,
Ivan Lexa. On this occasion, though, Meciar says he will be taking
up his seat in parliament when it meets on 15 Oct ober.

The role of the Communist Party in the
parliament is yet to be seen. The party, which proudly proclaims
its links to the former communist regime and is the only party
officially opposed to NATO, was one of the surprises of the
elections, winning 6.3 percent of the vote and 11 seats. It is not
clear yet whether the Communists will get any posts in the
parliamentary committees. At present, talks suggest that nine of
the 16 parliamentary committees will be led by the governing
parties.

Robert Fico, leader of the Smer party, which had
for most of the election seemed likely to challenge the HZDS for
top spot in the polls, said that his party will act as a “standard,
outright opposition” and will have “nothing to do with the HZDS or
the Communists.”


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