Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
For two years the editorial staff of The Slovak Spectator has been an unbiased observer of the events surrounding Slovakia's democratic development and economic transformation. It is our goal as a newspaper that accurate and balanced information is made available for our readers. The events of May 23-24 have shaken our confidence that Slovakia is moving forward toward democracy, so we felt it necessary to speak out.
Why did you take the fourth question (Do you agree that the president should be directly elected by citizens?) off the referendum ballot?
Since the March 1994 no-confidence vote in you sparked by a speech made in the Slovak Parliament by President Michal Kováč, you have been focused on humiliating, ousting, and discrediting the president in nearly every political action you have taken. Your ruling coalition in parliament has taken powers away from the president (making what's left largely symbolic), your cabinet has slashed funding of the president's office for three straight years, you have called for his resignation without proof of him breaking the law, and your government has forced at least one state administrator to resign for having met the president, making it clear that anyone that is not with you is against you. The only word to describe such passion is hatred. The issue of directly electing the president must be seen as a cause championed by the president and the opposition. It was they who organized the referendum by collecting enough signatures and who tied the two votes of NATO membership and direct presidential elections together. A "Yes," vote to direct presidential elections would mean a political triumph for the president and the opposition. Based on everything that you have worked for, this cannot be. So you were willing to drag this political fight into the referendum, further endangering Slovakia's chances of NATO and EU integration.
Do you think people have lost faith in democracy?
A national referendum drew less than 10 percent of the electorate to the polls. Pulling the fourth question at the last minute has shaken people's belief that they can change things. People have been reading, discussing, and contemplating the four questions on the referendum for the last month. Suddenly they go to the poll, and there are only three questions. They see that democracy isn't working. When nearly 500,000 people sign a petition calling for a referendum, the president sets a date. But the government, searching for a reason to prevent the vote, strikes the question off the ballot because it doesn't agree with the question citing a last-minute ambiguous Constitutional Court decision as justification. This is a clear example of infringement of a basic right to vote on a political question. Ninety percent of the citizens staying home is a loud protest against the methods that were used to manipulate the referendum questions.
What do you think Slovakia's chances are now to join NATO and the EU?
Any chance Slovakia had to be invited into NATO in July disappeared with these latest events. Unless the bitter power struggle between you and the president ends and a respect for dissent is tolerated, then the EU, which is more important to Slovakia than NATO, will close its doors. There is precious little time to improve the situation. Only a truce between you and the president would accomplish this - not a realistic thing to hope for.
How far are you willing to go to stay in power?
The present cabinet won a fair and free election in 1994. Often this fact has been used by the coalition to justify acts, such as removal of a ballot question, in the name of democracy. But government tools, like the Interior Ministry, used in a democratic government to serve the law, were instead abused for political purposes. Next year parliamentary elections are scheduled to occur. As a result of the May 23-24 events there are serious concerns that winning the power struggle with the president (which would only mean complete humiliation and a total withdrawal by the president from politics) and maintaining power outweigh your commitment to democratic principles. Will government institutions interfere with next year's election? Are the interests of the cabinet greater than people's well-being? These are legitimate questions that can be asked and tolerated in a democracy. Democracy allows mistakes to be learned from and a choice be given to people. Next election citizens have the right to decide to either change who is in power now or to give them another chance. Will you, Mister Prime Minister, allow democracy to give you another chance?
5. Jun 1997 at 0:00