Premier Vladimír Mečiar's administration has taken less than two months to retaliate against a referendum staged by the rebellious town councils of Štúrovo and Svätý Jur. A proposed new law forbids municipal governments to call referenda on matters beyond their competence, and imposes a 3 million Sk fine for infractions of this rule.
On April 19, Štúrovo and Svätý Jur staged a referendum on NATO accession and direct Presidential election. The plebiscite had originally been called for that day by former President Michal Kováč, but had been cancelled by the Mečiar government on March 3.
The previous Law on Municipal Administration, drafted in 1990, had allowed municipal councils to call a referendum on certain specific issues relating exclusively to the town or village itself, or on unspecified "other important matters" (Chapter 2, Article 11a, Paragraph 6). Under the new proposal, "municipal residents are not permitted to vote on other matters," and if municipal councils break this rule, "the court can assess a fine of up to 3 million Sk."
"As a lawyer I say this law has a certain logic," said Daniela Franzenová, the director of the legal section at the Association of Towns and Villages (ZMOS), "but as an employee of ZMOS I call it a bad move. Some villages have a budget of half a million crowns - how would they pay such fines?"
Needless to say, the law has not been received kindly by autonomous regional bodies. Stanislav Fronc, Mayor of Svätý Jur, said that "the law is not fair because a fine can be given without considering the importance of the [infraction]," and added that the proposal had been drafted in retaliation for the referenda that had been staged in defiance of the government's orders. "Power needs to be obeyed," Fronc said.
Municipal leaders have been supported by civil groupings. "We emphatically protest against the proposal...which allows the state administration to levy fines on self-governing bodies," proclaimed the Trenčín Informal Association, a non-partisan citizens group. In a public statement published in the daily Sme on May 22, the group explained that "we consider this proposal an interference in the democratic rights of self-governing bodies and a limitation on the sacrosanct rights of citizens to express their opinions on public matters."
Explaining the law on Slovak Radio on May 4, Mečiar said that "the government must respond to cases where the Slovak constitution and laws have not been respected. It would be bad if anyone took the law into their own hands."
18. Jun 1998 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson