Parliament fails to elect president for fifth time

As widely expected, Parliament failed again in its fifth attempt to elect a new president on April 16. None of the three candidates came anywhere near mustering the required 90 votes, which means that the country's six-week old constitutional crisis will continue for the forseeable future.
Parliament's Speaker Ivan Gašparovič, who announced the result, set a new vote for the end of the month. "No candidate succeeded in gaining the necessary majority to be elected as president. I interrupt this session until April 30," he said.
The fifth round was the first in which Premier Vladimír Mečiar's ruling coalition fielded a candidate, HZDS deputy Milan Sečánsky, who despite polling more than his two rivals combined, only secured 59 votes. 25 deputies voted against him and 41 abstained.

As widely expected, Parliament failed again in its fifth attempt to elect a new president on April 16. None of the three candidates came anywhere near mustering the required 90 votes, which means that the country's six-week old constitutional crisis will continue for the forseeable future.

Parliament's Speaker Ivan Gašparovič, who announced the result, set a new vote for the end of the month. "No candidate succeeded in gaining the necessary majority to be elected as president. I interrupt this session until April 30," he said.

The fifth round was the first in which Premier Vladimír Mečiar's ruling coalition fielded a candidate, HZDS deputy Milan Sečánsky, who despite polling more than his two rivals combined, only secured 59 votes. 25 deputies voted against him and 41 abstained.

The HZDS has 61 seats in the chamber, while its coalition satellites, the SNS and ZRS, hold 21 seats together. Since candidates cannot vote for themselves, any ruling coalition deputy needs to win nine votes from the opposition to be elected.

Vladimír Palko, a KDH Vice-Chairman, said the SDK could not support Sečánsky because he had been a loyal supporter of the government throughout its entire controversial term. SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda agreed, saying that "Sečánsky actively supported the regime that damages Slovak people."

Brigita Schmögnerová of the opposition SDĽ was approved by 43 deputies, with 71 votes against and 11 abstentions. An independent candidate, Zdeno Šuška, who had been fielded by independent deputy Miroslav Kočnár, scored five votes in favour, 63 against and 57 abstentions.

During Schmögnerová's introductory speech, which was very critical of the government, ruling coalition deputies frequently jeered in disapproval. Eva Zelenayová, a HZDS deputy, explained that she hadn't voted for Schmögnerová because she didn't find her charming enough.

"Opposition candidates cannot be elected in this Parliament, simply because they are candidates from the opposition," Dzurinda declared in his speech.

Schmögnerová and Sečánsky will run off against each other in the April 30 vote. There is no provision in the constitution to break the deadlock in parliament, and in theory an unlimited number of new votes in parliament could take place.

The deadlock means that Mečiar will continue to wield most of the presidential powers he inherited from his bitter rival President Michal Kováč on March 2, when Kováč stepped down leaving no successor. However, for the time being, no one has the power to sign laws, remove a minister or appoint a new one.

The opposition claims that Mečiar is not interested in electing a president. "Can the Prime Minister really be serious about electing a president if he didn't even come to Parliament today?," Dzurinda asked.

Mečiar, a controversial figure who has been criticized at home and abroad for backsliding on democratic reforms, had refused to nominate a candidate in previous rounds of voting saying there was no point unless agreement could be reached between government and opposition.

But the opposition says he is desperate to become president himself to ensure his political survival after September Parliamentary elections. Mečiar has been touted as a candidate by senior HZDS members.

However, according to an opinion poll conducted in mid-March by the Institute for Public Affairs, only one in five Slovaks would support Mečiar's bid for the presidency.


Additional reporting by Tom Nicholson

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