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Municipal campaign begins

THE ELECTION campaign for municipal governments around the country officially began today, although many candidates for mayor and local council have complained that their opponents started campaigning weeks ago.

The capitals of Slovakia’s eight regions are already swamped with billboards and public advertising, especially in Bratislava, where candidates include incumbent mayor Andrej Ďurkovský (Christian Democrats) and challengers Monika Beňová (Smer) and Maroš Kočner (independent).

Edo Klena of the Euro AWK ad agency, which owns 147 billboards in eastern Slovakia’s Prešov, told the Pravda daily that most of his space had been rented months ago: “We only have one or two spots left in less attractive areas,” he said.

The 2006 elections have already been marked by apparent attempts to buy voters. In the town of Svatý Jur, for example, Mayor Alexander Achberger recently opened a new road and sidewalk leading up into the more rugged Neštich part of town. The sidewalk, which was partially funded by the EU, will be heated by internal coils during the winter to avoid icing.

Meanwhile, in Donovaly, Mayor Miroslav Daňo had 25 kilograms of potatoes delivered to every permanent resident, and flew a number of older citizens by helicopter to Austria for an outing as part of an outreach program for seniors. “Free potatoes, grannies in helicopters“ read a headline in a local paper.

In Poprad, Mayor Anton Danko opened a new arena with his own initials on it, and in the last two months has unveiled nine new projects including parks, religious artefacts, industrial zones and buses for local transport.

This year’s municipal elections are regarded as more important that ever before due to the massive decentralization of state power that has occured in Slovakia since 2001. Towns and villages now control a far higher share of public money than they did at the time of the last elections in 2002.

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