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Bratislava elects new chairman

Former actor and Culture Minister Ľubomír Roman became Slovakia's first regional assembly chairman after Bratislava region voters gave him 55% support.
The elections, the first at the regional level in Slovak history, saw only 24% of registered voters cast votes in and around the capital. The coalition of national government parties which had backed Roman took 40 of 46 seats in the Bratislava region assembly.
"Everywhere in the world you see few voters going to the polls," said Roman. "In our case we had a bit less than the regular 'few', but that didn't really surprise me. I was more surprised to see right-wing voters show up. I guess they understood what was at stake."


Low turnout left electoral officials at polling stations around the country twiddling their thumbs December 1.
photo: TASR

Former actor and Culture Minister Ľubomír Roman became Slovakia's first regional assembly chairman after Bratislava region voters gave him 55% support.

The elections, the first at the regional level in Slovak history, saw only 24% of registered voters cast votes in and around the capital. The coalition of national government parties which had backed Roman took 40 of 46 seats in the Bratislava region assembly.

"Everywhere in the world you see few voters going to the polls," said Roman. "In our case we had a bit less than the regular 'few', but that didn't really surprise me. I was more surprised to see right-wing voters show up. I guess they understood what was at stake."

Roman confessed after the vote count that he had "secretly hoped" to win over his main adversary, former Constitutional Court Chief Justice Milan Čič, even though pre-election polls had shown the men to be in neck-and-neck race.

Čič had been backed by a left-wing alliance between the main national opposition party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and the country's most popular non-parliamentary force, the Smer party of charismatic lawyer Robert Fico.

While the alliance did well elsewhere in the country, winning five of eight regions, in Bratislava it took only five seats in the new 46-mandate assembly.

Bratislava, whose citizens are wealthier than voters in the rest of the country, has traditionally given little support to the HZDS, whose voters tend to be older, rural dwellers according to demographic studies.

Čič said that Roman had evidently managed to "convince voters more with his programme and his past work in politics." He blamed his defeat on the fact that candidates in regional elections were not allowed to campaign on television and radio, and on what he called Bratislava's "political fragmentation."

Roman's campaign platform included improving public transport, public safety and social spending, as well as reducing bureaucracy and creating jobs. He dubbed the capital "a Euro-region of the future". The standard of living in Bratislava is 99% of the European Union average, compared to less than 40% in the east of the country.

Despite the promises, many voters said they felt poorly informed of the candidates and the import of the elections, which were called after the national parliament passed several laws this fall devolving national government powers to the new regional assemblies.

"I see only scheming, arguing and skullduggery," said Pavel Hlinický, 79, when asked what he thought of the candidates listed on ballot sheets. "We only see the deputies we vote for at election time, that's where it ends."

Other voters agreed, with many saying they had voted according to party rather than candidate because they knew nothing about those standing for election.

Slovakia's eight new regional parliaments hold their first assemblies in January 2002, although they do not formally take over their new powers until later next year.

Roman has already set his heart on convening in the former national parliament building on Župné Square in Bratislava. If the national parliament turns him down, as it has threatened to do unless Roman's assembly repays some of the Sk67 million invested in renovations, Roman has declared he will convene the first session "on the street outside the Župné building".

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