Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda faces the greatest challenge yet to his leadership after members of the government coalition joined with opposition parties to vote for a second reading to two bills outlawing MPs' membership of more than one political party. Dzurinda recently formed a new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), which he hopes to lead to victory in the next general election.
His declared aim in forming the new party was to unite the squabbling strands of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) which forms the core of the present government. Wednesday's attack on Dzurinda's power-base was led by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), which is part of the government coalition. They were supported by the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), also a coalition member. A report in the daily SME predicted that Dzurinda may no longer lead the government come the autumn.
President Rudolf Schuster's health has taken a turn for the worse. Last week we reported that the President had been hospitalised, supposedly suffering the effects of the Slovak heatwave. On Monday 19 June, Schuster had a 25-centimetre section of his colon removed in an emergency operation at Bratislava's Ružinov Hospital. The President's office later issued a statement denying that he was suffering from cancer.
The Interior Minister, Ladislav Pittner, was also under the knife this week. He underwent gall bladder surgery on Monday. Last month, Pittner, a staunch supporter of Premier Dzurinda, also spent time in hospital with heart problems.
The Government is to spend Sk5.9 billion on compensation for farmers hit by drought. Agriculture Minister Pavel Koncoš said this was to cover 50 per cent of the cost of direct damage to crops. It has been estimated that this year's harvest could be reduced by as much as 60 per cent, with the eastern Slovak lowlands being the worst-hit region.
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Parliament has voted to raise the state pension by ten per cent from 1 August. The Government had proposed an increase of seven per cent, but MPs favoured the higher figure proposed by the SDĽ. Finance Minister Brigita Schmoegnerová, herself a member of the SDĽ, says the Government will now have to find an extra Sk2.8 billion to pay for the bigger increase. The opposition HZDS had proposed an increase of 19.4 per cent.
Human rights issues remained off the agenda during the visit of Li Peng, Chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress, to Bratislava. Trade issues dominated discussions. Premier Dzurinda, who is developing quite a reputation for evasive answers, put it thus, in an interview for Slovak Radio: "It is very important to be aware of reality, of the prevailing power relations and the significance of the power relations, and, of course, it is necessary to find the most appropriate verbal expression."
Corruption is worse in Slovakia today than it was ten years ago, according to a report prepared for the Government by the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The report, based on interviews with businesspeople, public officials, and the general public, suggests that corruption remains a particular problem in the health sector and the courts system. Many Slovak doctors insist on extra payments from patients. On Wednesday 21 June, the Government launched a national programme to fight corruption. Only 57 cases of corruption were officially registered in 1999.
Robin Sheeran, 24 June 2000
TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)