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SDĽ coalition steel doubted

Reforms crucial to Slovakia's development are at risk of being continually delayed by internal coalition bickering and in particular, the often divisive stance of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) within the coalition itself, according to analysts and many coalition partners. Following a final 2000 parliamentary sessionon December 19 the SDĽ came in for heavy criticism from coalition partners when, critics argued, the party failed to adhere to previous agreements and refused to support the cancellation of amnesties granted by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to people suspected of involvement in the 1995 abduction of the former President's son, Michal Kováč Jr.
The cancelling of the amnesties was designed to show Slovakia as a state determined to bring criminals to justice and rid itself of an image of a country where political friendships over-ruled the need for justice to be seen to be done.

Economy Minister Tomáš Malatinský(Source: TASR)


Jozef Migaš, right, is leading a divisive party, critics say.
photo: TASR

Reforms crucial to Slovakia's development are at risk of being continually delayed by internal coalition bickering and in particular, the often divisive stance of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) within the coalition itself, according to analysts and many coalition partners.

Following a final 2000 parliamentary sessionon December 19 the SDĽ came in for heavy criticism from coalition partners when, critics argued, the party failed to adhere to previous agreements and refused to support the cancellation of amnesties granted by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to people suspected of involvement in the 1995 abduction of the former President's son, Michal Kováč Jr.

The cancelling of the amnesties was designed to show Slovakia as a state determined to bring criminals to justice and rid itself of an image of a country where political friendships over-ruled the need for justice to be seen to be done.


Harabin met with the UN's Dato Cumaraswamy last year. Harabin went to the UN to protest his proposed recall.
photo: TASR

The party also failed to support the recall of Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin. Harabin had, since his appointment to the post in February 1998, been involved in scandals which judges themselves say damaged the standing of the judiciary.

Since taking his post Harabin has, among other things, refused to initiate an investigation of his subordinate judge, Jozef Štefanko, on suspicion of corruption, only backing down under intense media pressure. He had also become embroiled in a legal fight with the Justice Ministry over the title to the shared Ministry and Supreme Court building finding himself under suspicion of having used a faked photocopy of the legal document proving the title.

By not supporting the Harabin recall, which judges said would have strengthened the perception of the judiciary in the eyes of foreign observers, the SDĽ reneged on a coalition agreement.

With the cooperation of the SDĽ in the coalition on key matters seemingly less than certain, the hopes for speedy implementation of important reforms, such as state administration and amendment of the constitution [due for parliamentary discussion in January - ed. note] look equally unsure, analysts have said,

"They [the SDĽ] were most often the intigators of internal coalition disputes, and their loyalty and commitment to the government programme are questionable at times," said Grigorij Mesežnikov , head of the independent Bratislava-based think tank Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). He added that a lesson had to be learnt from the last parliamentary session of 2000.

"Party squabbles should not keep important political work back. If they [the government] want to put reforms through, good communication is the key," Mesežnikov said, adding that the coalition parties should forget narrow political interests and instead concentrate on producing concrete professional political results that are relevant to the country.

Some of the SDL's coalition partners dubbed them 'untrustworthy' after the final session, suggesting the often talked-of rift in the coalition between the Democratic Left Party and the other members is no closer to being healed.

"I'm convinced that the SDĽ again failed and personally I think that co-operation with them will be very problematic in the near future," said František Mikloško, head of the Christian Democratic Party (KDH) parliamentary caucus. "These people are not able to say in advance what stance they'll take," he said.

"After the vote [during the last parliamentary session December 19], the SDĽ carries the full responsibility that the Kováč case will not be solved in court and the criminals will escape without due sentence," said Vladimír Palko, a KDH deputy and a co-author of the proposal to the constitutional law aimed at cancelling the amnesties and allowing a proper investigation of the kidnapping.

SDĽ members rejected the criticism as "too strong". SDĽ deputy Ľubomír Andrassy told The Slovak Spectator on January 2 that the coalition members knew long before the vote that his party did not agree with the proposed legisaltive change.

"We presented our opinion at a coalition council meeting two weeks before. We said we would support the other proposal [prepared by SDĽ deputy Ladislav Orosz] which deals with the amnesties in a less controversial way," he said, adding that coalition partners such as the KDH were not willing to accept compromises.

"They knew our stance long before the vote. It's pure speculation to say that the SDĽ is taking revenge for [the resignation of SDĽ-nominated Defence Minister Pavol] Kanis (see story pg 1)," he added in reaction to rumours which appeared short ly after the vote in parliament.

Mesežnikov said that although the SDĽ stance was known, the party failed to support the KDH's immediate proposal on December 19 to postpone the voting on amnesties for the first January 2001 session, which would have given the coalition time to agree on a compromise.

"SDĽ objected that questions related to justice, as in the case of amnesties, should not be dealt with by executive power. But this was a special case and it was certainly not correct of the SDĽ to ignore the proposal to postpone the final vote for the next session," the IVO head said.

"Harabin did not behave in accordance with the post he occupied and had become untrustworthy. And once the coalition agreed to support his recall, they [the SDĽ] should have kept to it. It's a basic thing in politics."

In a secret vote 60 out of 138 deputies present supported the recall, 62 voted against, 15 abstained from voting and 1 vote was invalid.

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