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INSIDERS FEAR MORE CASES IN STORE

SDK survives court challenge

As hundreds of onlookers waited tensely outside, the Slovak Supreme Court quashed an appeal by Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and on August 14 allowed the largest opposition party in the country to register for national elections.
Mečiar's party had been appealing an August 10 decision by the Central Election Commis-sion to allow the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) to contest national elections set for September 25 and 26. In its legal brief, the HZDS said that the SDK should not have been registered because it was not a real party, and said it wanted the party to be re-registered as a coalition.
But Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin said in his official ruling that "the approval of the SDK's registration was done in accordance with the law," and added that "the Supreme Court can only judge the registration [question], it cannot judge the character of a political party."


Victory is sweet. The strongest opposition party remains in the race after winning case.
Peter Prísny

As hundreds of onlookers waited tensely outside, the Slovak Supreme Court quashed an appeal by Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and on August 14 allowed the largest opposition party in the country to register for national elections.

Mečiar's party had been appealing an August 10 decision by the Central Election Commis-sion to allow the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) to contest national elections set for September 25 and 26. In its legal brief, the HZDS said that the SDK should not have been registered because it was not a real party, and said it wanted the party to be re-registered as a coalition.

But Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin said in his official ruling that "the approval of the SDK's registration was done in accordance with the law," and added that "the Supreme Court can only judge the registration [question], it cannot judge the character of a political party."

If the opposition party had been forced to change its registration, all five of the parties which united to form the SDK would have needed 5% of the national vote to secure parliamentary representation. Present opinion polls show that only 2 of the former parties would win such support.

The HZDS case had been built on two pieces of evidence: a document downloaded from the Internet about the opposition's internal coalition agreement , and the name of the opposition party itself, which contains the word "coalition."

"Thousands of people can read the coalition agreement on the Internet. We thought that since this is displayed on the Internet, that [the SDK] must be like that," said Imrich Majerský, Mečiar's attorney for the case. The lawyer was referring to an opposition coalition agreement signed in 1997 in accordance with the former election law.

The opposition's legal representative at the court, Ernest Valko, argued before the court, that it "did not have a right to re-register the party as a coalition, but only the right to overturn or confirm the registration of the list of candidates." Following the verdict, he said that he was "happy that the court respected all of our arguments."

The Supreme Court ruled that according to Slovak law, political parties, movements and other organizations can be named anything they like, as long as there is not another party with the same name. According to the court, the SDK was validly registered as a party at the Slovak Interior Ministry on March 10. The decision of the court is final.

Other opposition parties voiced support for the SDK in its fight for the validity of its registration. "My heart is sad tonight, because we are awaiting this decision from the Supreme Court. I cannot imagine elections without the participation of the SDK. We are crossing our fingers that justice will be done in this case," said Rudolf Schuster, chairman of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) on the eve of the Supreme Court decision.

But despite the clear verdict, the opposition remained wary of further attacks from its main rival, the HZDS party. Top SDK representative Ján Langoš said that "this is only the beginning of the circus that will be conducted by the Prime Minister's party. They will try by all means possible to stop the SDK's registration and the next step will probably be another vote at the Central Election Commission about our registration."

The August 10 election commission decision had come out 18 to 17 in favor of the SDK, but in other voting, the commission had barred two minor parties from elections for mistakes on their candidates lists. Although one party, the Slovak National Unity (SNJ) was reinstated on August 14 by the Supreme Court, the balance of power on the commission has now shifted in favour of the governing coalition.

Ján Čarnogurský, an SDK delegate on the Central Election Commission, specifically refuted Langoš's fears of another vote on the registration issue. "Voting on this matter is over. It is finished," he said, but added that in any other decision taken by the commission, the opposition was likely to be outvoted by a bloc of representatives from governing parties and non-parliamentary but pro-Mečiar parties.

"We do not have enough support on the commission. This may be even more dangerous for us," agreed Langoš.

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