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EDITORIAL

Small town blues

The Constitutional Court handed down its verdict on Slovakia's municipal election law amendment on October 15. Not just one or two, but a laughable six out of seven new clauses, the court said, were against the constitution.
Clearly, these elections, set for November 13 and 14, cannot go ahead under the new law. They would be invalid, and would have to be re-run at great cost and little credit to the new government. But just as clearly, delaying elections or scrapping the amended law imply many risks for the candidates and the municipalities themselves.
The greatest risk is that voters and those running for municipal office across the country will lose interest in the elections. Having geared themselves up over the past months for a good scrap, electors and municipal candidates might have to wait up to eight months for the law to be fixed and the vote to be held.

The Constitutional Court handed down its verdict on Slovakia's municipal election law amendment on October 15. Not just one or two, but a laughable six out of seven new clauses, the court said, were against the constitution.

Clearly, these elections, set for November 13 and 14, cannot go ahead under the new law. They would be invalid, and would have to be re-run at great cost and little credit to the new government. But just as clearly, delaying elections or scrapping the amended law imply many risks for the candidates and the municipalities themselves.

The greatest risk is that voters and those running for municipal office across the country will lose interest in the elections. Having geared themselves up over the past months for a good scrap, electors and municipal candidates might have to wait up to eight months for the law to be fixed and the vote to be held. Eight months, it should be said, of pre-election limbo, in which the business of the community is neglected while everyone waits for guidance from the national parliament in Bratislava.

The other great danger is that in those eight months, the HZDS party of outgoing Premier Vladimír Mečiar may rally its demoralised troops and win a substantial number of regional government posts. In this campaign they would be aided by the economic crisis which is almost certain to attend the new national government's first months in power. While the HZDS has itself laid the groundwork for Slovakia's economic collapse, the party's control over national public radio and television has protected citizens from this knowledge, and nothing the former opposition parties could now say would convince the country's impoverished village voters that the HZDS should not be given a chance to rescue the nation from its misery.

So elections have to be held quickly, but how? The first possible date that a new government can be formed is October 29. This government would then have to propose a new draft of a municipal election law, and have parliament approve it within a drastically shortened period of three or four days.

At that point, all being well, the municipal election process would be returned to the point at which candidate lists are distributed, which is 55 days before election day. A constitutional amendment could then be passed, shortening this 55 day period to, say, 20, at which point new elections might be scheduled for December. In theory, this might be done, but municipalities and election commissions would have a horrendous time of re-checking the new candidates lists and re-registering voters within the shorter timespan.

If the new government were of one mind, the municipal elections mess might be cleared up quickly and decisively. But the newer parties wihin the new government - the powerful SDK and the smaller SOP - have no regional organisations to speak of, and no particular reason to push for a speedy vote. On the other hand, the older parties of the former opposition - the leftist SDĽ and the KDH, which is itself part of the SDK - have been preparing long and hard to fight this battle, and would be very displeased if elections were delayed.

There will be few winners in the next municipal elections, whenever they are held. Voters will be confused at best and manipulated at worst. Candidates will neglect their jobs while they wait for the green light. The new government will be tugged this way and that by internal disagreement over solutions. And Mečiar, the father of the country and the fomenter of its discord, will be waiting on the sidelines to pick up the pieces.

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