Premier Dzurinda sets the government's aims for 2001
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda has outlined his government's four main priorities for the coming year. Meeting the conditions for membership of the EU and NATO are his most important aims for 2001.
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Speaking in Bratislava on Tuesday 9 January, Dzurinda said the year would be a decisive one, as it would become clear whether the country had achieved its aim of catching up with its neighbours that began the EU accession process a year earlier.
Creating an effective business environment comes second on Dzurinda's list of aims. The Premier said his cabinet aimed to create conditions for sustainable economic development. Third on the list is the improvement of living standards, with Dzurinda claiming that 2001 will see increased wages and purchasing power, lower unemployment and more jobs created. The Premier's final priority is the fight against crime and corruption.
Fico calls to raise parliamentary threshold
Róbert Fico, the leader of the Smer party, has reiterated his call for the raising of the threshold for parties entering parliament from five per cent to seven per cent of the electoral vote. Fico said the aim of his proposal was to standardise the Slovak political scene and reduce the number of smaller parties.
Smer would also like to see the introduction of a majority election system, with individual deputies elected to represent their own constituencies. Fico said "Slovakia is one constituency and [deputies] are responsible to no-one. Provided they are obedient to their party leadership, they can be sure of being nominated again."
According to the latest opinion polls, if Fico's proposals were adopted, his former colleagues in the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) would be excluded from Parliament with the support of just 6.9 per cent of the electorate. Support for Fico soared after he quit the SDĽ to form Smer, he regularly scored up to 25 per cent in polls conducted last year.
The latest poll from the Markant Agency shows Smer's support at 14.5 per cent, trailing Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ) with 17.6 per cent and Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) with 24.2 per cent. It should be borne in mind that Slovak opinion polls are famed for their unreliability.
UPC announces price increases
Slovakia's largest cable television operator, UPC, has announced price increases of up to 40 per cent starting in February. The company cited the failure of the regulatory Telecommunications Office to come up with a price list as part of the reason for the increase, which raises prices for its full menu of services from SKK (Slovak koruna) 200 to 280 (between USD four and six) per month.
The price for UPC's basic range of channels will increase by only 5.5 per cent, from SKK 54 to 57 (around USD 1.2). The price increase has not gone unnoticed by the authorities.
First, the Anti-Monopoly Office started an investigation, stating that UPC could be guilty of abusing its dominant market position. Then the Telecommunications Office ruled that annual increases in cable TV fees should not be above the inflation rate of around 10 per cent. UPC says it is determined to proceed with the increase, and has demanded that its customers pay the higher rate.
Cable is the common mode of delivery for TV in Slovakia, and, with most Slovaks too cash-strapped to afford outside entertainment, a major price increase is sure to be massively unpopular. It follows similar large increases in prices for housing, water, electricity, gas and other basics.
Rudolf Ziak charged with sabotage
Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner announced that Rudolf Ziak, Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) chief for just a few days and deputy chairman of HZDS, has been charged with sabotage and the spreading of false alarms. He is alleged to have ordered intelligence operations designed to undermine Slovakia's neighbours in their attempts to join NATO and the EU during Vladimír Mečiar's time as premier between 1992 and 1998.
Ziak's lawyer told journalists his client had travelled to the USA and intended to visit other countries. The SIS is said to have planned operations aimed at damaging the foreign policy aims of Poland, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. The former head of the SIS and close Mečiar ally, Ivan Lexa, is currently on the run in an unknown location.
Mečiar predicts return of HZDS
Former premier Vladimír Mečiar has predicted that his HZDS party will return to power after the next election, but has hinted that he may not be part of the government. "The HZDS will be in the government after the elections. This does not mean, however, that I will be in it." Speaking to the Nový Den newspaper, which is a strong supporter of the HZDS, Meciar said he thought Slovakia would benefit from a change of government.
Former transport minister seriously ill
The former minister of transport and director of the Eastern Slovak Ironworks (VSž), Alexander Rezeš, is reported to be suffering from an incurable disease. The opinion is offered in a report by a medical specialist following Rezeš' request for a pardon on medical grounds. When Rezeš first applied for a pardon in 1999, he applied to have his passport returned in case he needed to travel abroad for health care.
The former minister is accused of damaging a historic building in the central Slovak town of Banská Štiavnica. Rezeš had the baroque mansion rebuilt to his own design. The inclusion of an indoor swimming pool seems to have aroused particular ire. The picturesque former mining town of Banská Štiavnica is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Robin Sheeran, 12 January 2001
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