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EDITORIAL

June elections:Let's cut to the chase

BY ALL accounts the quality of the country's laws have improved since the pearls produced by the 1994-1998 Vladimír Mečiar government. But you wouldn't know it after listening to the invective of the past week.
The main reason that politicians are now ripping into laws they themselves approved is that September elections are approaching. With the fortunes of every government member save the Hungarians in decline, everyone with a party badge is decrying the compromises that have been part of maintaining a wide-spectrum coalition government since 1998. The pretence of unity, like the snows of December, has melted away.
The communist SDĽ party now rejects the idea of selling a 49 per cent stake in gas utility SPP. It's late in the day, with bids expected by the end of February, but the SDĽ is sworn to have the privatisation law amended. Apparently, 25 per cent of the firm should be handed to insurer Slovenská poisťovňa, and only 24 per cent sold to an investor, to safeguard Slovak interests.

BY ALL accounts the quality of the country's laws have improved since the pearls produced by the 1994-1998 Vladimír Mečiar government. But you wouldn't know it after listening to the invective of the past week.

The main reason that politicians are now ripping into laws they themselves approved is that September elections are approaching. With the fortunes of every government member save the Hungarians in decline, everyone with a party badge is decrying the compromises that have been part of maintaining a wide-spectrum coalition government since 1998. The pretence of unity, like the snows of December, has melted away.

The communist SDĽ party now rejects the idea of selling a 49 per cent stake in gas utility SPP. It's late in the day, with bids expected by the end of February, but the SDĽ is sworn to have the privatisation law amended. Apparently, 25 per cent of the firm should be handed to insurer Slovenská poisťovňa, and only 24 per cent sold to an investor, to safeguard Slovak interests.

The SDKÚ party of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda sees nothing wrong with the SPP sale, but has suddenly discovered the new Labour Code is a terrible injustice. Although the amended code takes effect April 1, the party is furiously readying an improved version. Apparently, caps on overtime and part time contracts are a millstone for employers and, again, a threat to Slovak interests.

Then there is the genuinely stupid property declaration rule, which (in only a minor simplification) would have tax inspectors visiting 4.2 million homes to make sure taxpayers have declared every pair of sexy underwear they own. This was the main reason the SDĽ got rid of its only political asset, internationally respected Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová, according to the party.

Or a report from the National Bank of Slovakia, approved last week by cabinet, outlining firings and criminal charges at the central bank after the NBS' spectacular failure to tell anyone that now-crashed Devín banka was lying about its health. Some government MPs want the head of NBS Governor Marián Jusko as well, given that monetary policy has clearly not been as independent from fiscal policy - nor the central bank from politicians - as it should be.

Even presidential busybody Rudolf Schuster has poked his nose in, with the opinion that the government should set a minimum price it is willing to accept for SPP before the bids come raining down. In Slovak interests, of course. Wouldn't that be tipping our hand? asked Dzurinda. Shouldn't we encourage a bidding war rather than telling investors what we're prepared to settle for? And aren't we coming up with a few too many clever ideas way past midnight?

Not, apparently, in politics-blighted Slovakia, where 'Slovak interests' are pleaded by everyone with a half-baked scheme to dig up the past for his own profit.

One hates to admit it, but the non-parliamentary Ano party of media abuser Pavol Rusko is right - the government should muster its remaining parliamentary strength and revise the constitution to cut short its own term. Early elections in June would minimise the pain for a country starved of good laws and leadership, and likely to get neither before September.

Early elections would allow the new government to revive the flagging pace of EU-related change and keep Slovakia firmly in the lead of first-entry candidates.

Early elections would give Nato a chance to take a long last look at the new government before making a decision on Slovak entry at the Alliance's November Prague summit. With elections now scheduled for late September, the ruling will have to be taken at the last moment.

Early elections might prevent the government from hurting itself further through infighting. While they could also prevent Dzurinda's pro-democratic allies from mounting an effective coalition campaign to defeat Mečiar, the breadth of the current coalition is making enemies of former partners, which if allowed to drag on will disgust the populace.

Early elections would virtually doom the corrupt and irresponsible SDĽ, now running around 3 per cent after over 14 in 1998. They would also force the hand of SOP leader Pavol Hamžík, whose politics have been reduced by low support to a terrified "me too" of everything Mečiar suggests.

Early elections would, in essence, stop the government from undoing some of its own good work since 1998. Perhaps that's why the opposition Slovak National Party favours letting Dzurinda's cabinet serve out its term - not to give the good guys more time to win the fight, but rather in the hope they'll turn their guns on themselves.

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