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Voters boycott election booths in anger and disgust

Emotions ran high as hundreds of thousands of Slovak voters made their way to voting booths on May 23-24, only to find that this election would be different from any they had ever participated in before. Every district received ballots with three questions dealing with Slovakia's entrance into NATO and its willingness to shelter foreign troops and nuclear weapons, the result of a last-minute decision by the Interior Ministry to distribute ballots without the fourth question concerning the direct presidential election.
At polling stations across the country, the overwhelming reactions were anger and disgust. Many citizens vented their frustration with getting only the three-question ballots right at the government.
"It is ridiculous what this government is doing! Shame on it!" yelled a 35-year-old woman at a polling station in the Petržalka precinct.


X marks the spot. No four-question ballots were made available for the vote, angering the public.
Milan Krupčík

Emotions ran high as hundreds of thousands of Slovak voters made their way to voting booths on May 23-24, only to find that this election would be different from any they had ever participated in before. Every district received ballots with three questions dealing with Slovakia's entrance into NATO and its willingness to shelter foreign troops and nuclear weapons, the result of a last-minute decision by the Interior Ministry to distribute ballots without the fourth question concerning the direct presidential election.

At polling stations across the country, the overwhelming reactions were anger and disgust. Many citizens vented their frustration with getting only the three-question ballots right at the government. "It is ridiculous what this government is doing! Shame on it!" yelled a 35-year-old woman at a polling station in the Petržalka precinct.

"Unfair! You're a bunch of criminals!" yelled two older pensioners at members of the district referendum committee who handed out the three question sheets in downtown Bratislava. An overwhelming majority of the citizens refused to accept them.

"We consider these ballots falsified and invalid. Even the stamp on the ticket is forged! The president has called a referendum with four questions!" was how citizens voiced their complaint, many refusing to even present themselves.

"Why don't the comrade ministers add the fourth question, and then we will vote," added a 65-year-old man.

The four question ballots, approved by the Central Referendum Committee (ÚKR), were not available anywhere. Citizens could only see them pinned up on their district bulletin boards, right next to the ticket containing the three questions.

Angry at the opposition

There were citizens who were glad the fourth question wasn't there. They blamed the opposition parties and President Michal Kováč for the confusion that surrounded the two days of voting.

"I would have voted even with three questions," said an upset older woman in the Bratislava district of Petržalka, where no ballots were made available. "What do I care about the president." Petržalka's mayor, Vladimír Bajan, refused to accept the voting tickets with three questions, a stand that mayors in some districts in Košice and other Slovak cities adopted as well.

"How dare they take away my right to vote! This opposition is too bold, they should be launched into space, so they fly around like [the Russian cosmonaut Yuri] Gagarin!" an upset citizen yelled. The person rejected the ÚKR's claim that the stamp on the three question ballot was forged. "Well, how would you know whether it is fake or not," the person challenged. "There are only opposition members on the central committee."

Tensions even ran high when Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar went to cast his ballot.

Flanked by his wife Margita, his son Michal, his daughter Magda and a squadron of bodyguards as he scaled the steps to the voting station on Hlboká ulica in Bratislava, the premier caught the full brunt of one citizen's anger. "Are you aware that you have cheated at least 50 percent of the population?" a 35-year-old man, who later identified himself as an entrepreneur from Bratislava, asked derisively. Mečiar, visibly red as he futilely scanned the crowd for a sympathetic face, answered that he was not aware. Asked how he voted, Mečiar replied: "It's none of your business" and shaking, added: "It's not my obligation as a citizen to answer, okay?"

"How are you doing in the Czech Republic? Are you doing better now?" Mečiar interrupted a Czech reporter who posed the question again. The journalist, undeterred, pressed on. "Have you already found lawyers for the government? When are you going to recall the interior minister? Are you planning to resign?" The questions, however, fell flat on the back of the departing premier, who did leave himself enough time to yell "You bum!" to the Czech writer.

POSS ADDS

Members of district committees were subjected to similar chaos. The committees that had a majority of opposition members showed an example of the ticket with four questions and the atmosphere was calmer, with no one attempting to influence or force anyone to receive a ticket. The committees with a strong representation from HZDS only showed the tickets with three questions and some district representatives even verbally assaulted the critical citizens and journalists.

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