Cabinet gains new faces

ONE DAY after three ministers from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) resigned from the cabinet triggering the collapse of the ruling coalition, President Ivan Gašparovič named their replacements.

ONE DAY after three ministers from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) resigned from the cabinet triggering the collapse of the ruling coalition, President Ivan Gašparovič named their replacements.

In an accelerated process, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda proposed that the seats be filled by the existing deputy ministers in each sector.

In confirming the choices, Gašparovič acknowledged the difficulty of taking over a ministry in such a politically charged atmosphere.

"Your position will not be easy, as you are being named to these posts for a very short time in a situation when parliament will be deciding on early elections," Gašparovič told the new ministers at their nomination ceremony.

Slovakia's new interior minister is Martin Pado from the prime minister's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ). He replaces Vladimír Palko.

The new education minister is László Szigeti of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), replacing Martin Fronc, while the justice ministry will be headed by only the second woman in the current Dzurinda administration, Lucia Žitňanská, who takes over from Daniel Lipšic.

Žitňanská is not a member of any political party, but was nominated to the post of deputy minister by the KDH in October 2002. The party has said it is "disappointed" with her decision to stay on.

The new ministers will occupy their posts for only five months.

Gašparovič thanked the departing ministers, noting that "your work has brought success", while Lipšic, Palko, and Fronc wished good luck to their replacements.

The only major post that has yet to be filled is the position of speaker of parliament, which formerly belonged to KDH Chairman Pavol Hrušovský. Following brief initial agreement, it now seems that this post will be the hardest to fill.

Until a deal is struck, parliament will be led by its current deputy speakers, Béla Bugár of the SMK and Viliam Veteška from the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

Given the problems the legislature has experienced in the past when parliamentary posts fell vacant, observers doubted that MPs could agree on the top legislative appointment.

One deputy speaker post still remains vacant following the departure of Zuzana Martináková from the SDKÚ in 2003, for instance.

According to Pavel Haulík from the MVK agency, parliament may ride out the election term with just the two deputy speakers.

"This is something for the lawyers to look at. I'm not sure whether it's technically or legally possible for the speaker of parliament seat to remain vacant. But if it is, I can well imagine parliament completing its term with just the deputy speakers," Haulík told The Slovak Spectator.

"After all, there are unlikely to be many more sessions of parliament, and I would say today that this issue is not really that important."

The post of speaker is one of the top three constitutional jobs in the country, making it attractive for political parties.

According to Dušan Čaplovič from the opposition Smer, the party that wins the post would enjoy "an advantageous position in pre-election agitation".

But most observers feel that to avoid further complications, the parties will leave the post vacant and, according to Haulík, "hang on until the end of the shortened election term".

Nor will the government be active, Haulík said, as all of its major reforms have been set in motion, while the opposition is also likely to call a cease-fire in its relentless parliamentary campaign against government ministers.

As the government crisis was peaking, even Slovakia's least popular minister, Health Minister Rudolf Zajac, survived a non-confidence vote on February 8, after the KDH refused to help the opposition dislodge him.

"Having ministers recalled will no longer be effective once parliament approves the Act on Early Elections," Haulík said.

"Besides, every political party will have its hands full preparing for elections."

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