Premier Vladimír Mečiar (left) looks to pull a little sleight-of-hand by seeking to shorten the term of his avowed rival, President Michal Kováč', by two weeks.
"We will elect the president of the republic in December," Mečiar said in an interview with the official news agency TASR. He declined to name a candidate, but added the head of the state "should not be a political president."
The incumbent president, Michal Kováč, a former ally but now an avowed political enemy of Mečiar, will officially end his term of office next spring. The Slovak Parliament can hold early presidential elections, but the new leader's term would not begin until Kováč's ends.
That's what the two enemies are fighting over now. Kováč was elected on February 15 and sworn into office on March 2, 1993. Mečiar now claims that Kováč should be out of office on February 15 at the latest.
But Vladimír Štefko, the president's spokesman, said that Kováč took office on March 2, and on that day his work contract started. Štefko added that Kováč's term ends on March 2, 1998, and "Mr. President will act accordingly."
Pursuing his personal war, Mečiar now seems determined to cut Kováč's term just by two weeks in order to achieve his political victory.
"Mečiar is pathologically obsessed with the idea of cutting the President Michal Kováč's office term for whatever it takes, regardless if it is by several months or even by several days," said Peter Zajac from the opposition Democratic Party. "Because of this obsession, Mečiar is willing to violate any law and even establish a rule of terror."
Over the past week, reports surfaced that Mečiar had chosen Ladislav Ťažký, a well-known Slovak author, to be Kováč's successor. When asked about Ťažký's candidacy, Ján Cuper, a HZDS deputy, told a news conference: "I respect him as an author and as a person. He is the kind of person who would guarantee that Slovakia will have a head of state who would represent Slovakia objectively."
But Cuper and Eva Zelenayová, another HZDS deputy, said Ťažký was not a candidate. Kováč, backed by the opposition parties, has not officially said whether he will seek re-election, although he has said he is considering it.
Under the Slovak Constitution, the president is elected by a three-fifths majority in parliament. But with the current ratio of seats in the chamber, neither the ruling coalition nor the opposition is in position to muster that many votes.
If a stalemate occurs, presidential powers, albeit whittled down over the years by the Mečiar government, would pass to the cabinet and effectively to Mečiar, a situation the opposition is desperate to avoid.
Mečiar - who has clashed with Kováč since the latter helped bring down a previous Mečiar government in 1994 - has made several attempts to force Kováč to resign, or to cut his term in the post.
After the Parliament staged a no confidence vote in Kováč in spring of 1995 that had no legal meaning, various HZDS and ruling coalition-dominated bodies (including the state insurer Slovenská Poisťovňa's board of directors) have called on Kováč to resign.
In the TASR interview, Mečiar rejected opposition fears that the government could rig next year's general elections to be held in the fall.
"The elections will be free and democratic," Mečiar said while rejecting calls for international supervision of the poll saying it undermines the state.
With special reporting by Daniel Borský
11. Sep 1997 at 0:00 | Peter Javůrek