Roma succeed in local elections

TWICE as many Roma candidates won seats on local councils or as mayors in the December 2 municipal elections as did in the previous vote in 2002, according to a preliminary forecast by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

TWICE as many Roma candidates won seats on local councils or as mayors in the December 2 municipal elections as did in the previous vote in 2002, according to a preliminary forecast by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Approximately 1,300 Roma candidates ran for council seats while 50 ran for mayor. The exact number of those who succeeded is not known at the moment, but the first results have suggested that the number of Roma in municipal government will rise sharply.

"We know of 17 Roma mayors who were elected so far, while in the last election term it was 10," said Zuzana Dzúriková of NDI.

Klára Orgovánová, the government appointee for the Roma community, said the elections confirmed a rising trend of Roma participation in politics. She estimated that compared to the 120 Roma municipal councilors in the previous period, this time there would be "many more".

The Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) scored the best results of any Roma political party with 6 mayors and 36 councillors elected in the Banská Bystrica, Prešov, and Košice regions. Many candidates tried to break onto the candidates lists of the governmental Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. Two newly-elected mayors ran for a new political party called Unified Slovakia.

According to Dzúriková, Roma candidates started campaigning for non-Roma votes in bigger towns, instead of just running in isolated Roma settlements. Eastern Slovakia's Levoča, with a population of almost 14,500, had a Roma elected to its municipal parliament for the first time ever.

The preference for Roma candidates in some towns was due to the high number of Roma voters. For instance, in Stará Ľubovňa and Lomnička, where 99 percent of inhabitants are Roma, the newly-elected city council is completely made up of Roma.

The area around Rimavská Sobota in Eastern Slovakia gained seven Roma mayors in the recent elections. One of them, Ondrej Berki, is starting on his second term as mayor of Hostice. He plans to build new cheap flats for 16 families and set up a work activation program to fight the village's 90 percent unemployment rate.

"We want to build a sewage system and restore the local castle. We will involve as many unemployed people as possible," he said.


- Lívia Tóthová

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