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HZDS surrenders

The HZDS party of outgoing Premier Vladimír Mečiar says it has seen the writing on the wall, and will soon give way to allow parties of the former political opposition to form a new government.
"Our attempt to form a government will soon end. It will end before the first session of parliament on October 29," said Ján Smerek, the HZDS deputy entrusted with the job of trying to stitch together a coalition with enough votes to rule in Slovakia's 150-seat parliament.
Speaking at a press conference on October 14, Smerek called himself a "pragmatist," and said the HZDS would not "stretch time" in fruitless attempts to stay in power.

The HZDS party of outgoing Premier Vladimír Mečiar says it has seen the writing on the wall, and will soon give way to allow parties of the former political opposition to form a new government.

"Our attempt to form a government will soon end. It will end before the first session of parliament on October 29," said Ján Smerek, the HZDS deputy entrusted with the job of trying to stitch together a coalition with enough votes to rule in Slovakia's 150-seat parliament.

Speaking at a press conference on October 14, Smerek called himself a "pragmatist," and said the HZDS would not "stretch time" in fruitless attempts to stay in power.

Smerek, who is also the chairman of the board of Slovak's largest company, steel maker VSŽ Holding Košice, was appointed by the HZDS as its chief negotiator on October 8. Smerek met with representatives of current coalition partner the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) on October 14. But after the SDĽ gave a clear signal that cooperation with the HZDS was unthinkable, Smerek bowed out.

"We want to form the future government, but not with either the HZDS or the SNS," said Pavol Kanis, SDĽ Vice Chairman. Kanis also ruled out the possibility of his party's forming a government by itself with the quiet support of Mečiar's party and the nationalistic SNS.

SNS vice chair Anna Malíková also accepted the SDĽ decision with equanimity, saying that her party "has to be realistic. The opposition has already made its plans to form the government".

Opposition shaken

The SDĽ had been seen as a key factor in government negotiations after last month's parliamentary elections. Four opposition parties together gained 93 seats, enough for a 'constitutional majority' that could elect a new President and amend the constitution.

Many analysts, however, questioned whether the SDĽ might not defect to join the HZDS instead, giving Mečiar enough seats to pass laws in the Slovak parliament.

Although SDĽ members came out early and stridently against governing with Mečiar, they shook the confidence of the other opposition parties by suggesting on October 8 that any new government would function better without the participation of the Hungarian party. The SDĽ backed away from its hard-line ethnic stance on October 11, but doubts remain about its willingness to establish a united front with other opposition parties.

These doubts were strengthened on October 13, when the independent Rádio Twist broadcast a list names for ministerial posts in the new cabinet. The list, complied by the SDĽ and the largest opposition party, the SDK, after a series of bilateral negotiations, shut out the two smaller parties from the ministerial lottery. The SDK took six ministries (out of the current 13) and the Premiership. The SDĽ, on the other hand, was given three ministries and the post of parliamentary speaker.

The Hungarian party (SMK), which represents Slovakia's 550,000 ethnic Hungarians, and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) were disgusted with their weak positions in the future government. Both parties, which together will hold 28 seats, had been asking for two ministerial posts and a vice-chairmanship in the government. "The attitude of the SDĽ is unacceptable. They just want to gain more positions at our expense," said SMK chairman Béla Bugár on October 14.

Pavol Hamžík, vice chairman of the SOP, told reporters on October 13 that his party had learned that European Union politicians in Brussels felt that talks on forming the new government were proceeding too slowly. A new parliament should move to fulfil the EU political conditions "very quickly, before the EU summit next June," Hamžík said. "If this does not happen, Slovakia will lose the confidence [of the EU] and will have no chance of being transferred to the first group for EU enlargement."

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