GUEST COLUMN

U.S. State Department critical of new election law; Agency claims is inconsistent with international norms; urges Slovaks to invite international election observers

The Government of Slovakia has passed a law that may result in an election process inconsistent with current international norms, thus not free and fair. Independent experts from the U.S. and elsewhere, including the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), had advised the government of their specific concerns while there was still ample time to bring the legislation into line with international norms. As enacted, the legislation increases the authority of the Ministry of Interior, which was instrumental in disrupting last year's referendum on NATO membership and direct election of the President. The legislation also increases the possibility that media coverage of the election will be unfairly and excessively restricted. Significantly changing the election process only four months before voting creates confusion, and calls into question the intent of the legislation.

The Government of Slovakia has passed a law that may result in an election process inconsistent with current international norms, thus not free and fair. Independent experts from the U.S. and elsewhere, including the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), had advised the government of their specific concerns while there was still ample time to bring the legislation into line with international norms. As enacted, the legislation increases the authority of the Ministry of Interior, which was instrumental in disrupting last year's referendum on NATO membership and direct election of the President. The legislation also increases the possibility that media coverage of the election will be unfairly and excessively restricted. Significantly changing the election process only four months before voting creates confusion, and calls into question the intent of the legislation.

In determining whether the Slovak elections are free and fair, international opinion will consider the entire election process - including its legal framework, transparency, and the unfettered flow of information. We hope the elections will be consistent with international norms, so that Slovakia can take its place among its neighbors in Western institutions.

In light of last year's disrupted referendum and questions about some provisions of the new legislation, we encourage the Slovak government to make adequate provisions to accommodate international and domestic observers, and work with the OSCE to clarify or amend provisions that do not meet current international norms.

This statement by James P. Rubin, Spokesman of the United States' Department of State, was issued in Washington on June 22, 1998.

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