POVAŽSKÉ PODHRADIE - This village of 900 squats under the Strážov hills in western Slovakia's Považská Bystrica district in Trenčín region.
The region earned a new political distinction last week when the results of regional elections revealed all 45 regional assembly seats had been taken by candidates nominated by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).
On election day, nothing seemed to disturb the village's regular Saturday atmosphere. People as usual cleaned their houses, slaughtered pigs and sawed wood. The local pub was open - unlike during national parliamentary elections - and patrons, as usual, talked shop.
"People aren't interested," said the pub's bartender, Gabika Miklošová. Comparing the regional elections with 1998 parliamentary and 1999 presidential elections, she added: "Back then they had long discussions and argued about the candidates. Today they are quiet."
A man in his 50s, dressed in dungarees, walked in and approached the bar. "Have you voted?," the bartender asked. "And for whom?" he replied. "Why should I go there? It's a total waste of time. I won't even vote in the next parliamentary elections. I don't trust anybody. Nobody cares about the ordinary man."
The bartender pulled another draft. She explained that people lacked information about the elections and individual candidates. She blamed the ban on electronic media campaigning. "From time to time somebody mentions the name of a candidate here, but it goes unnoticed. TV would have helped.
"Yesterday, a young man came in for a beer. After he finished, he left around 150 little calendars on a table, bearing the picture and a written profile of one of the independent candidates. He told me to give them out to people. People took almost all of them, but only because it contained a calendar for 2002," she said.
Some of the young people who entered the pub claimed they did not know elections were taking place. A 29-year old woman asked: "Why should I vote? I don't believe in anyone and I'm not interested in these things anymore. Anybody who gets elected will just screw people out of money."
The village residents, like voters around the country, had received guidelines on voting and leaflets on some candidates in their mailboxes during November. A list of candidates for the regional parliament and for the chairmanship was posted on a local notice board. Local papers printed profiles of individual candidates. However, local people still said they felt ill-informed.
Around 16:00, the village's six-member election commission had seen mainly older people showing up to vote. "Very few people came," said one of them while completing a crossword. He estimated the turnout to be 20%.
An old couple in their mid 70s - the most common voter age bracket in the village - emerged from the electoral centre. "I also gave a vote to that nurse," the woman was saying to her husband.
They said they had come to fulfill their civic duty. "Every citizen should vote," the man said. They had carefully studied the materials they received in their mailbox and read the local papers. "We knew some of the people," he said, naming some HZDS candidates, "but it was the party that decided."
Other older people also said they wanted the HZDS to win. "If the HZDS wins, it will have the power to influence things in the parliament and put them in order," said another woman in her 70s.
Out of 47 candidates in the Považská Bystrica constituency, all five HZDS nominees advanced to the regional parliament. The same pattern was seen in other Trenčín constituencies, leaving none of the HZDS nominees unelected.
Only 21.5% of Trenčín region voters participated.
10. Dec 2001 at 0:00 | Zuzana Habšudová