Proposing to dispel the fog of public apathy and secure democratic national elections for September this year, an initiative called Civic Campaign '98 (OK'98), was announced on March 3 in Zvolen by representatives of 35 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including US AID, the Center for European Politics, the National Democratic Institute and the British Know How Fund.
The initiative claims that a considerable number of Slovak citizens have lost their confidence in the current ruling coalition. "Like the majority of our fellow citizens, we feel a deep distrust in our government," the initiative's founding statement reads. "The feeling is spreading among citizens that their votes cannot alter developments in society."
This means that the vote should be kept under citizens' control, campaign leaders claim. OK'98 views monitoring the elections and getting citizens involved in political processes as a moral responsibility. "We are citizens as well and we do not want to stay indifferent," said Lota Pufflerová, the campaign's spokeswoman. "We will try hard to make people think about their rights and get them involved in the forthcoming elections."
Campaign leaders feel the greatest unease about legislative preparations for the coming elections, which is "decisive for the election process," as the statement put it. Claiming that the government's draft amendments to national and municipal election laws (see related story, page 1) make room for election rigging, OK'98 "fundamentally disagrees with the way these [draft bills] have been prepared to date and demands that they be made the subject of public discussion."
OK'98 supports the idea of foreign observers scrutinizing the election process, but as Pufflerová stressed, it is not the focus of their activity. "We did not want to repeat what the Stupava Conference had already declared," she said, referring to an annual NGO conference that debates public and political issues. Last October, participants at a conference in Košice called for "the presence of international observers during the election campaign, as well as during the elections themselves, in accordance with the OSCE's 1990 Copenhagen document."
Andrea Reidy from the British Know How Fund expressed the belief that the campaign would awake citizens from their apathy. "The collective efforts of Slovak NGOs operating under the OK'98 banner will play a key role in the process of raising public awareness of the important issues at stake during the election period," Reidy said. "[We have] worked for several years with a wide variety of Slovak NGOs on projects aimed at encouraging active citizen and community participation in all aspects of life and a new, stronger partnership between private and public initiatives."
According to Pufflerová, the ambition to draw people together and kick-off the campaign did not originate with any political party. However, the movement is open to all. "We will cooperate with any political party to keep the competition fair," she said. "What we care about is the voter, not a [political] party."