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The referendum calling for an early parliamentary election has failed. The law requires that 50 per cent of eligible voters take part in a referendum for its result to be valid. With just 20.3 per cent of voters taking part in the referendum on Saturday 11 November, it mattered not that 92.4 per cent of those who voted were in favour and just 4.8 per cent opposed.
The referendum was initiated by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Slovak National Party (SNS). Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, whose supporters boycotted the poll, described the referendum as "utter nonsense from the very beginning" (see We've Got Better Things to Do! in this week's CER).
The result raises important questions about the future of the HZDS and its longstanding leader, Vladimír Mečiar (see Leadership in Flux in this week's CER). It is also being viewed in some quarters as a first defeat for Róbert Fico, leader of the newly-founded Smer party and the current golden boy of Slovak politics, who also urged his supporters to take part in the referendum.
The other big losers were the pollsters. Predicting voting patterns is a risky business, as the US television networks will testify. The Slovak pollsters were miles off target this time, predicting a turnout of between 35 and 43 per cent.
SDKÚ founding congress
Premier Dzurinda was the only candidate for the leadership of the new Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) at its founding congress in Bratislava on Friday and Saturday 17 and 18 November. In his keynote speech, delivered on Friday, Dzurinda said the party's main aims were a strong coalition government and membership of the European Union.
He announced that the party would make its electoral debut in local and regional elections in 2001, but would not make its entry on the national stage until after the general election the following year.
Overseas visitors attending the conference included Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. The question of guests from closer to home proved more problematic. As František Mikloško, an MP from coalition partners the Christian Democratic Movement, put it to the Sme newspaper: "As long as the SDKÚ say they won't talk to us about coalition, only about merger, we have no reason to attend their conference."
Media mogul kicks up a fuss
One of the major players in the Slovak media market kicked up a fuss over delays in acknowledging his appointment as Brazilian honorary consul. Pavol Rusko, who is co-owner of the popular independent station, Markíza, accused Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan of holding up his appointment for political reasons.
Rusko suggested that Kukan was unhappy with Markíza's coverage of Foreign Ministry activities. He said he was concerned only for the health of Slovakia's diplomatic relations with Brazil, and that Kukan had received all the necessary documentation two months previously.
On Tuesday 14 November, Kukan announced that Rusko's appointment as honorary consul had been rejected, citing the media mogul's recently announced decision to enter politics as a central figure in the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), which forms part of the governing coalition.
The Foreign Minister adjudged that it would be a violation of ethics and diplomatic protocol for a diplomat to serve the interests of two countries at the same time. The incident is a minor setback for Rusko, who has a number of other media interests. Rest assured this is not the last CER readers will hear of Slovakia's would-be Berlusconi.
Support for EU and NATO membership on the increase
The latest opinion polls show support for membership of the EU and NATO is growing in Slovakia. A poll by the MVK agency issued on Thursday 16 November shows 76 per cent in favour of joining the EU, with 48 per cent in favour of NATO membership. The EU figure is up by 11 per cent and the NATO figure up by seven per cent since a comparable poll was taken last December.
Trying to drum up support for joining NATO has proved a problem for the ruling coalition. The government's active assistance in the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia may not have helped. Fifteen per cent of Slovaks are unambiguously opposed to membership of the Western military alliance, and just over a quarter of those polled would prefer not to join.
And in other news
- The EU's chief negotiator with Slovakia, Dirk Meganck, visited a number of Roma settlements and pronounced himself shocked and horrified by the living conditions he encountered. In an interview on Radio Twist, Meganck said he could not imagine a family with ten children living without electricity or running water in Belgium. He said Slovak Roma were the target of violence, and that the Roma problem would not be solved if everyone continued to say it had nothing to do with them.
- President Rudolf Schuster will return to his duties in Bratislava on Monday 20 November. The head of state has been recuperating in his home city of Košice after his latest surgery. President Schuster came close to death during the summer, when he underwent a series of operations on his colon.
- Four men have admitted to an attack on a Roma woman in Žilina in August which left her dead. The mother of eight died from her injuries after a gang broke into her family home, beating the family as they slept. The four accused are aged between 20 and 22. Peter B has been charged with serious bodily harm resulting in death, and the others with serious bodily harm. The incident is believed to have been racially motivated.
Robin Sheeran, 18 November 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)
Today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic