Following a January 16 meeting of top officials from the HZDS opposition party in Nitra, western Slovakia, the party announced it was launching a petition drive to have a referendum on early parliamentary elections called.
"The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia [HZDS] won't allow state structures to be destroyed [by the current government], and thus in the near future will prepare a petition on early elections in Slovakia" HZDS Deputy Chairman Rudolf Žiak told media after the meeting.
Although Žiak said that January 16 could be taken as the start of the petition, HZDS spokesman Marian Kardoš explained three days later that it would take a while longer for the effort to begin in earnest.
"The petition will take a little longer to prepare," Kardoš said on January 19. "Now we are creating a petition committee, and we estimate it will begin functioning at the end of next [January 24-28] week. Before that, we have to formulate the petition question to make sure it is clear and in accordance to Slovak law, as well as to organize volunteer activists."
More than 350,000 Slovak citizens must sign the HZDS referendum petition for it to be valid, following which the petition sheets would be passed to President Rudolf Schuster, who by law must call a referendum on the issue within 90 days. The results of any referendum would be valid only if more than half of all eligible voters took part in it.
Political observers agreed that the HZDS initiative was not likely to succeed even if voters supported it because early elections also had to be approved by a two-thirds majority (90 of the total 150 MP's) in the Slovak parliament. The government parties control 92 parliamentary seats.
Vladimír Palko, deputy chairman of the Christian Democrat party of government, called the petition drive "a meaningless activity which is bound to end as a fiasco." SDĽ party caucus chairman Ladislav Orosz told the SITA news agency that while the petition might increase political tensions in Slovakia, it would not get enough support in parliament to pass. "The HZDS will predictably be succesful in collecting the necessary number of signatures on their petition, but the referendum has no chance to succeed," Orosz said.
According to Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the IVO think-tank in Bratislava, the petition was a new element in the HZDS' effort to destabilize the political situation in Slovakia. "The HZDS has been using two tools to achieve its objectives," Mesežnikov said. "First, they keep initiating motions of non-confidence in current cabinet ministers, which is good for their media image, and secondly, they talk very carefully about the possibility of civil disobedience erupting in Slovakia. Now they want to support these attempts with this petition."