Normal service resumed in Slovak politics
Normal service has been resumed in Slovak politics following the failure of the opposition-inspired referendum on early elections. All memories of the temporary pre-referendum truce were quickly forgotten as MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) moved to quit Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) and set up a separate KDH caucus within Parliament.
The SDK is a coalition within a coalition, established prior to the 1998 elections to defeat Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The current government consists of the SDK, the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP).
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Hrušovský spoke to reporters after an inconclusive meeting with Dzurinda on Monday 20 November, saying that the KDH had felt itself to be under great pressure: "We felt like somebody was trying to completely paralyse and weaken the position of the KDH in Slovakia. It was, thanks to the KDH, that the SDK was successful in the 1998 election."
The dispute has something of the nasty air of a family feud, with Dzurinda having gained the position of Premier through his membership of the KDH, his erstwhile party colleagues feel he is now trying to strangle the party that nurtured his political career.
Dzurinda announced the formation of the SDKÚ earlier this year with the intention of formalising relations within the SDK, and building a single, strong centre-right party ready to fight the election in 2002. The project has only seen partial success, and, in the light of the resulting chaos within the SDK, is viewed by some commentators as Dzurinda's biggest mistake to date.
Further troubles for Dzurinda
Dzurinda's leadership suffered a further blow on Thursday 23 November, when the amendment to the law on party membership was signed by President Rudolf Schuster. The amendment bans political parties from allowing dual membership with other parties.
Coming into effect on 28 February 2001, the amendemnt leaves Dzurinda in a potentially sticky situation. At the moment, he is the leader of both the SDK and the SDKÚ. It is hard to see how he could remain Premier if he were to give up the leadership of the SDK. The situation calls for some political magicianship, and SDKÚ Secretary General Ivan Simko was quick to pull a rabbit out of the hat. According to Simko, the amendment applies only to new party members, and current members of the SDK have until 1 September 2002 to jump ship.
Rising prices in energy sector
Consumers face thumping price rises for gas and electricity. Slovenské Elektrarné (SE) is proposing a price rise of 20 per cent for domestic electricity users, and five to ten per cent for businesses starting on 1 January. This would represent the third double-digit price rise in two years. Electricity prices rose by 30 per cent in January 1999, 35 per cent in July of the same year and 40 per cent in February 2000.
Slovak Railways (ŽSR) could face an increase of 45 per cent on its electricity bill. Meanwhile, the Finance Minister, Brigita Schmoegnerová has criticised Slovak Gas (SPP) for proposing a 25 per cent increase in gas prices. The Minister says SPP will need cabinet approval if it wishes to implement the price increase.
And in other news...
- The trial of the former secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC), Vasil Bilak, will begin early next year. The 83-year-old former chief ideologist is accused of violating the law on the protection of peace, and financial crimes. The trial will begin once the judge has read 23,000 pages of documents, including the infamous "letter of invitation," which Bilak is alleged to have written in August 1968, inviting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
- Slovakia's progress along the slippery path to EU membership continued, with three new chapters of the acquis communitaire covering transport, telecommunications, and the free provision of services being opened on Tuesday 21 November. Speaking in Brussels, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said Slovakia could be satisfied with its progress, but a lot of hard work lay ahead. The latest opinion poll shows 60 per cent of Slovaks are in favour of EU membership. The Institute for Public Opinion survey showed 23 per cent opposed to membership and 15 per cent undecided.
- Further discussions will be required before government coalition members reach an agreement on how to implement the European Charter on Regional and Ethnic Languages. The coalition party leaders met to discuss the Charter on Sunday 19 November, and its hoped that it can be approved at the meeting of the Coalition Council on 28 November. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) has made its support for the amendment of the constitution conditional on the adoption of the language charter.
Robin Sheeran, 24 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