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EDITORIAL

Will Slovak politicians sign a treaty, too?

When Czechoslovakia split, the world predicted political stability for the Czech Republic while prophesying a period of political turmoil for its former sibling, Slovakia.
After five years of separation, there are some interesting similarities to be drawn between the two. Before the end of September, both countries will have held two general elections - one regular (Czech Republic-1996, Slovakia-1998) and one premature (Czech Republic-1998, Slovakia-1994). Both countries have experienced a long period of a minority government followed by half a year of an interim government. The two politicians responsible for the "Velvet Divorce," Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, have reigned ever since that divorce on their respective territories, with half-a-yearlong breaks. Even more, these leaders' parties have been plagued by political and economic scandals, while both Klaus and Mečiar themselves often have been described by critics as authoritarian, arrogant, and having a special appetite for power.

When Czechoslovakia split, the world predicted political stability for the Czech Republic while prophesying a period of political turmoil for its former sibling, Slovakia.

After five years of separation, there are some interesting similarities to be drawn between the two. Before the end of September, both countries will have held two general elections - one regular (Czech Republic-1996, Slovakia-1998) and one premature (Czech Republic-1998, Slovakia-1994). Both countries have experienced a long period of a minority government followed by half a year of an interim government. The two politicians responsible for the "Velvet Divorce," Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, have reigned ever since that divorce on their respective territories, with half-a-yearlong breaks. Even more, these leaders' parties have been plagued by political and economic scandals, while both Klaus and Mečiar themselves often have been described by critics as authoritarian, arrogant, and having a special appetite for power.

The newest entry into the already long list of similarities has not yet been written, but is likely to be after Slovakia's September general elections, namely the post-election stalemate and, possibly, the manner of resolving it.

The way Miloš Zeman and Václav Klaus resolved the stalemate following the Czech elections has surprised many in and outside the country. Rightly so. After months of barking at each other and striving to make it sound that they will never sit at one negotiating table again, they prepared and within a week signed a so called "opposition treaty".

In this agreement, the less strong of the two inarguably strongest parties endorsed a minority cabinet of the strongest party by committing not to initiate or support a no-confidence vote in that cabinet. The agreement, however, does not bind Klaus' ODS deputies (the weaker) to vote for any law presented by Zeman's Social Democrats (the stronger).

The implications of this unusual contract are twofold. First, the accord constitutes a politically stable environment, something the Czechs nowadays need more than anything else, by guarenteeing Zeman that his government will not be removed until the next regular elections.

Second, the contract ostracizes those small parties whose preconditions for post-election cooperation were far greater than their election results, and effectively paves the way for a system made up of two strong parties and, consequently, a majority parliamentary system.

While most observers were caught off-guard by this solution, Mečiar labelled the agreement as the beginning of a consolidation period on the Czech political scene.

It seems Mečiar understands well what he is talking about. Viewed from any angle, the post-election situation in Slovakia is bound for a stalemate. Mečiar's HZDS and the SDK will vie for victory, while other parties will move between 8% and 15%, just as in the Czech Republic.

Even with the post-election support of the Slovak National Party with its 7-8%, Mečiar will not be able to form a majority government.

On the other hand, the SDK, already consisting of five different parties with their different agendas, will need at least one more partner. It needs not to be described how many compromises would have to be reached before a SDK-partner government could convene.

In the end, Klaus and Zeman may have created an interesting precedent for Slovakia. Due to grave animosities between Slovak politicians who are stubbornly supported by their voters, it seems that whoever the winner, may be will have to ask its greatest rival for tolerance in parliament and latitude to rule singlehandedly.

Mečiar's fear resulting from his 1994 removal by parliament has already led him to make his deputies sign commitments to leave the assembly if they defect from his party. Therefore, if he wins the elections and is not able to form a majority government, he would be very apt to offer a similar treaty to his biggest rivals. Whether

Mečiar would be apt to sign - and honor - such an agreement if it were offered to him, now that's a different story. But then, who would have expected Klaus to sign it?

Especially if it leads towards a majority system, Mečiar may be very tempted to follow Klaus' example, for he himself has long been trying to create one. His concept always has been the system of a strong leftist party and a strong rightist party, with his being a strong centrist party.

Four years ago, when giving his valedictory speech after parliament toppled him, Mečiar addressed his defected deputies who later created the Democratic Union, by these words: "One day, you are going to end up in one party with Čarnogurský's KDH anyway."

They laughed loudly then. Now, they are running against him as part of the SDK...

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