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EDITORIAL

The sorry pantomime of non-cooperation

The people can see it. The press can see it. The government can see it. Members of the coalition can see it. Even the president can see it. Everybody's talking about it.......... cooperation.
Unfortunately few people in the places that matter are doing much of it, and certainly not the SDĽ.
The president's New Year address, in its own ultimately simplistic way, spelled out a harsh fact for the coalition. Too much internal squabbling is harming the country. Just a few short days before Christmas the SDL effectively put the kibosh on cancelling amnesties for people suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of the then-president's son in 1995.

The people can see it. The press can see it. The government can see it. Members of the coalition can see it. Even the president can see it. Everybody's talking about it.......... cooperation.

Unfortunately few people in the places that matter are doing much of it, and certainly not the SDĽ.

The president's New Year address, in its own ultimately simplistic way, spelled out a harsh fact for the coalition. Too much internal squabbling is harming the country. Just a few short days before Christmas the SDL effectively put the kibosh on cancelling amnesties for people suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of the then-president's son in 1995.

"They knew we were going to do it," said the SDĽ to its coalition partners when it decided to vote against cancelling the amnesties on December 19.

"Oh no we didn't," their partners replied.

The end result: no chance of finding out who was really behind the crimes and the impression that some people in the coalition may not be overly concerned with finding out the answer or making sure that justice in Slovakia is seen to be done.

The same day the party decided it wasn't going to back the recall of the wayward Supreme Court Chief Justice, Štefan Harabin. Winning a reprieve by two votes thanks to SDĽ abstentions, a man involved in a scandal over allegedly fake legal titles remains in his post and the judiciary, at least in the eyes of legal observers abroad, is all the more weaker for it.

"The coalition agreements we are bound to are being misinterpreted by our partners," the SDĽ said after that one.

"If you agreed to it why didn't you just stick to it?" the political analysts replied.

And then came the final nail in a coffin-year of non-cooperation from the SDĽ.

Following the resignation of their own nominated defence minister (a right that the SDĽ holds under a coalition agreement and shows no signs whatsoever of not going along with) Pavol Kanis because he wasn't sure if he got the money to build his luxury villa from gambling or a big loan from a friend whose name couldn't quite come to the tip of his tongue, the Party of the Democratic Left thought it would be good to go against NATO regulations just as Slovakia looked to put in a final integration spurt for the alliance and proposed a former army general who had been schooled in Moscow during the communist regime.

"He was and remains the right man morally and in terms of expertise, for the job," they said.

"Sorry, you'll have to find someone else," said the rest of the coalition.

This time the SDĽ backed down. They had their last candidate, Jozef Stank, put into the job January 3. The coalition agreed, as did NATO.

The sorry pantomime of the SDL's unwillingness to play by the coalition rulebook is an obvious detriment to any plans the goverment as a whole may have to get important reforms through parliament. The time for getting reforms in place, especially the most difficult and politically sensitive ones, is running out. Elections are still more than 18 months away, but the campaiging will start, unofficially, before 2001 is out.

Little can be done beyond the end of the year for fear of losing votes. The price rises in gas, electricity and transport that come in at the beginning of Febraury are unlikely to be repeated early next year. The economic ministers had the foresight, as well as the awareness of an economic need, to get the rises, difficult as they were, in place now rather than having to wait another six to eight months through squabbling.

Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerova, herself of the SDĽ, and Deputy Premier for the Economy Ivan Mikloš have shown the most willingness to overcome sometimes quite strong policy differences to get economic reforms through. Consequently they remain among the most popular politicians in the country.

If they can do it, why can't, on a wider scale, the political parties themselves do it too?

If the reforms that are needed to be put in motion this year are to be moved along, such as those in the health care sector, in the welfare system, state administration as well as amendments to the constitution, the SDĽs centre stage players will have to start working within the coalition.

Not all the blame for the stalling on important issues can be laid at the feet of the SDĽ. However, the most frequent guilty party is the Democratic Left one.

If the process of beginning these reforms is not at least put into place this year, the consequences for Slovakia could be harsh.

Unfortunately the country is not Aladdin and it doesn't have a genie in a magic lamp it can call up to solve its problems when it wants. The majority can only be solved, by better cooperation within the coalition.

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