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Presidential elections fail again

Slovakia's fractious parliament failed in its sixth attempt to elect a new president on April 30, ensuring that a two-month-old constitutional crisis would continue for at least another month. The widely predicted failure means that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar continues to wield the many presidential powers he inherited from his bitter rival President Michal Kovac on March 2, when Kovac stepped down leaving no successor.
Parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic set the next round of voting for May 29. But earlier this week Meciar said he had no idea when Slovakia would eventually have a head of state. Slovakia's parliament, which is responsible for electing a president, is too bitterly divided to agree on a candidate and there is no limit to the possible number of rounds of voting.

Slovakia's fractious parliament failed in its sixth attempt to elect a new president on April 30, ensuring that a two-month-old constitutional crisis would continue for at least another month. The widely predicted failure means that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar continues to wield the many presidential powers he inherited from his bitter rival President Michal Kovac on March 2, when Kovac stepped down leaving no successor.

Parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic set the next round of voting for May 29. But earlier this week Meciar said he had no idea when Slovakia would eventually have a head of state. Slovakia's parliament, which is responsible for electing a president, is too bitterly divided to agree on a candidate and there is no limit to the possible number of rounds of voting.

But the constitutional deadlock also forms part of a deeper, long-standing political crisis in which Meciar has been accused by foreign governments, human rights groups and the parliamentary opposition of backsliding on democracy.

Last year the opposition, supported by Kovac, forced a referendum aimed at having the president directly elected by the people. But Meciar thwarted it, provoking strong criticism from the European Union and the United States. Kovac called a repeat referendum in February but this was also cancelled by the government.

The opposition accuses Meciar of engineering the crisis to boost his powers in the run-up to a general election in September. Meciar says he has done nothing illegal.

Thursday's vote was contested by Milan Secansky from Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Brigita Schmognerova of the opposition

Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ). Neither came close to 90 votes, the necessary three-fifths Parliamentary majority. Secansky received 72 votes and Schmognerova 47.

Schmognerova said Slovakia would never elect a president under the current procedure. "Parliament is as divided as all of society and I see no other solution but a direct presidential election," she told Reuters.

The HZDS has 61 seats in parliament and its two coalition partners, the far-left

Workers' Party and the far-right Slovak National Party, have 21 between them. Since candidates cannot vote for themselves, the government needs nine opposition votes to have its presidential candidate elected.

The presidential powers which have temporarily passed to Meciar include the right to represent Slovakia abroad and to grant amnesties. Others, notably the power to sign laws, remain in limbo.

Slovakia, which achieved independence when Czechoslovakia split in 1993, was once seen as a front-runner to join the European Union and NATO in their next wave of enlargement, but was the only applicant turned down for political failings.

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