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Mečiar Election Law to remain on books

Parliament's rejection on September 5 of an overhaul of Slovakia's infamous Election Law, amended in 1998 by the government of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, represented another promise the Dzurinda government has broken with its electorate, said some ruling coalition politicians.
The law was amended by Mečiar in May 1998 to require that every party running for election, whether in coalition or on its own, score over 5% voter support to secure representation in parliament. The change was then interpreted as an attack on the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) bloc of Mečiar's main political rival, current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda. Three of the SDK's five parties, it was suspected, would not have won enough support to enter parliament under the new terms.
The Mečiar government also restricted election campaigning to public electronic media, and changed Slovakia from a multi-constituency voting system to a single constituency. The Constitutional Court later found that the amendment violated the constitution in several areas.

Parliament's rejection on September 5 of an overhaul of Slovakia's infamous Election Law, amended in 1998 by the government of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, represented another promise the Dzurinda government has broken with its electorate, said some ruling coalition politicians.

The law was amended by Mečiar in May 1998 to require that every party running for election, whether in coalition or on its own, score over 5% voter support to secure representation in parliament. The change was then interpreted as an attack on the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) bloc of Mečiar's main political rival, current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda. Three of the SDK's five parties, it was suspected, would not have won enough support to enter parliament under the new terms.

The Mečiar government also restricted election campaigning to public electronic media, and changed Slovakia from a multi-constituency voting system to a single constituency. The Constitutional Court later found that the amendment violated the constitution in several areas.

But three years later, apart from a minor change to the election law in August 2000, the Mečiar act remains on the books, to the disappointment of the 49 MPs who in vain supported a draft amendment in parliament September 5.

Ľubomír Andrassy, vice-chairman of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), said those coalition MPs who rejected the proposed amendment had "ignored the promise they made to voters in 1998, when Mečiar's bad [election] law was passed".

Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist at Bratislava's Comenius University, explained that most parties had been reluctant to make such fundamental changes to Slovakia's election rules 12 months before the next elections, set for September 2002.

"[Change] might have forced them to re-calculate their levels of support, to alter their pre-election strategies and so on," said Kusý. "But there is certainly an element of hypocrisy behind their attitudes."

Done enough

László Gyurovszky, an MP for the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party, said his colleagues had not supported the amendment because the government coalition had for three years proven "unable to fix this law", adding he thought it would now be "unethical to change the law one year before elections," forcing voters again to adjust to new democratic rules.

On the other hand, Pavol Hrušovský, head of the Christian Democrats, said his party had rejected the latest amendment because its main requirements "were already met in last year's Election Law revision".

Last summer, the parliament approved a 5% voter support minimum for single parties to enter the legislature, 7% for coalitions of two parties, and 10% for coalitions of three or more parties.

The recent revision, however, had proposed wider changes that would have returned the election process to principles last used in 1994 elections.

Among the changes proposed were the division of Slovakia into four electoral constituencies, as it had been before Mečiar's 1998 revision, or into eight constituencies in conformity with eight recently created self-governing regions.

Since the Mečiar revision, Slovakia has had only one voting constituency, which has led to a disproportionate representation of the electorate as political campaigns have focused on voters from the more populous west.

According to Juraj Mesík, head of the Banská Bystrica NGO umbrella group Third Sector Gremium, "100 MPs out of 150 in the current parliament come from western Slovakia, including 64 directly from Bratislava, while the citizens of central and eastern Slovakia are represented by only 50 MPs."

Were there four constituencies, Mesík argued, political parties would have to prepare a list of candidates for each region, meaning that politicians from more remote regions would stand a greater chance of being elected to parliament.

However, Darina Malová, a political analyst with Comenius University, said it was inevitable that the wide-spectrum ruling coalition had not been able to agree on such a substantial change to the Election Law.

"They [the coalition] comprise different parties, with regional structures and policies that differ too greatly for them to be coherent or unanimous on this [election] law, especially not this close to the [2002] elections."

Furthermore, Malová explained, the outcry against the 1998 Election Law amendment had been as much to do with its provisions as with the fact that it had been scripted by Mečiar, who then acted as a force uniting the political opposition to oust him from power.

"The need to unite against Mečiar is no longer felt as strongly [by the current government parties] as it was in 1998," she said. "Alliances [such as an agreement to amend the Election Law] are formed where there is a common interest, and in this case such interest is missing. The [coalition] parties are no longer pulling on one rope against Mečiar. They have realised that the time has come to fight for their own party interests."

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