Back to the ballot boxes. Slovak voters will go to the polls on December 18-19 to elect new municipal governments.
"Citizens have the power to influence the direction of development in 2,867 towns and villages with their votes," said Michal Sýkora, chairman of the Association of Slovak Towns and Villages (ZMOS) in an interview for the daily Pravda.
One of the biggest 'developments' that citizens can influence is that of decentralisation - relaxing the national government's grip on power and giving municipal governments the financial and legal tools to make important decisions for themselves.
"Since 1991, the decentralisation of state power towards local governments has not advanced at all, which has had disastrous consequences on the division of powers [between the state and municipalities] as well as on the economic situation of the regions," said Peter Kresánek, mayor of Bratislava since 1994 and a deputy for the ruling coalition SDK party.
Luboš Kubín, a political scientist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, agreed that the main issue in the current municipal campaign was the revision of a senseless division of powers devised by the former government of Premier Vladimír Mečiar.
"More powers must be transferred to local governments," he said. "The current law on power division is no good, and has to be changed."
Much the same argument was made by Béla Bugár, chairman of the coalition Hungarian SMK party on December 9. In 1996, Bugár explained, Mečiar expanded the number of state-administered regions in Slovakia from three to eight, thereby more than doubling the number of state-employed clerks with power over municipal governments and retarding the process of decentralisation.
Feet in both camps
In advancing the devolution of state power, Kresánek said he was counting on the expertise and assistance of his parliamentary colleagues, many of whom are actually running for mayor in 1998.
Rudolf Schuster, head of the minor coalition partner SOP party, is contesting the mayor's seat for the second time in the eastern Slovak city of Košice. Ján Slota, leader of the far-right opposition SNS party, is fighting to keep his top post in northern Slovakia's Žilina. And in Bratislava, the mayoralty race has attracted the likes of Hungarian party deputy Árpád Duka-Zólyomi and Július Binder of the opposition HZDS. Vladimír Bajan of the ruling SDK party is battling for Petržalka, a suburb of the capital.
Kresánek said of his colleagues that it was "our mission" to complete the decentralization process, and argued that politicians experienced in both local administration and national government were the best mentors of such a process. Július Binder, a common candidate of the opposition HZDS and the far right SNS parties for the Bratislava mayoral office, agreed with his opponent that"it's not enough just to have the will - the skills are needed too."
"By the second half of next year, I would like to have a complete concept of decentralization in Slovakia and of the entire apparatus of public administration," Kresánek said. "If it takes any longer, municipal bodies will get used to behaving in accordance with the wishes of the state and will become increasingly averse to change."
ZMOS' Sýkora agreed that the increasing number of parliamentary deputies who were experienced in municipal politics could help local representatives push through the changes necessary for regional development.
"Those who worked in municipal governments will easily understand our needs," Sýkora said. During the reign of former Premier Vladimír Mečiar, he said, the state had maintained a jealous grip on power, to the extent that the majority of local governments suffered from insolvency. "We did not achieve our aims of creating a stable financial policy for municipalities and securing a bigger portion of state tax revenues," Sýkora said.
With a new cabinet in power, Sýkora said, ZMOS expects a new era of cooperation as indeed was outlined in the government programme approved in parliament on November 19. "The cabinet declared its will to sign the European Charter of Local Self-government, which will determine the direction of our future development," said Sýkora.
Kresánek agreed, saying that a clear definition of competencies would promote cooperation between the state and local governments. "The basic division between municipal and central power is the engine of [political] progress," Kresánek said.
The official campaign for municipal elections started on December 3, two weeks before the actual vote. The elections had originally been scheduled for November 13-14, but the date had to be postponed due to unconstitutional provisions in the municipal election law amendment pushed through by the Mečiar cabinet.
On November 4, the newly formed Slovak parliament adopted a revised municipal elections amendment reducing the state's influence in the campaign and allowing elections to go ahead.
14. Dec 1998 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš