MEČIAR SEEKS TO TIE VOTES ON BANKS, CABINET CONFIDENCE

ZRS rebels against coalition allies

The Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS), one party in the governing triumvirate, ticked off both its coalition allies at February's parliament session, voting against an amendment to Slovakia's penal code and joining opposition parties in postponing the privatization of the country's four biggest financial institutions. The latter vote agitated Premier Vladimír Mečiar so much that he accused the ZRS of adultery and then threatened to file for a coalition divorce at the assembly's March session.
"We warned the ZRS that it is impossible to behave in a way that 'I'm married to somebody, but I will sleep with someone else whenever I feel like it,'" Mečiar said in his regular address on Slovak Radio waves on February 14, the day after all 12 ZRS members voted to banish the privatization of four financial giants until the end of 2003.


ZRS Chairman Ján Ľupták (center) may not be toasting his alliance with Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar (left) and SNS Chair Ján Slota much longer now that his party voted twice against its partners.
Ján Kuchta

The Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS), one party in the governing triumvirate, ticked off both its coalition allies at February's parliament session, voting against an amendment to Slovakia's penal code and joining opposition parties in postponing the privatization of the country's four biggest financial institutions.

The latter vote agitated Premier Vladimír Mečiar so much that he accused the ZRS of adultery and then threatened to file for a coalition divorce at the assembly's March session.

"We warned the ZRS that it is impossible to behave in a way that 'I'm married to somebody, but I will sleep with someone else whenever I feel like it,'" Mečiar said in his regular address on Slovak Radio waves on February 14, the day after all 12 ZRS members voted to banish the privatization of four financial giants until the end of 2003.

In the same breath, Mečiar announced that his cabinet will exercise its legal right and ask President Michal Kovac to return the measure to parliament, which he is required by law to do.

However, the real ear-pricker came up later in the address, when Mečiar said that at the assembly's next session in March he will tie the banking privatization vote with a no-confidence vote in his government. Never before has Mečiar voluntarily exposed himself to parliament's mercy. If he sticks to his words and ZRS deputies stick to their vote buttons, together they will nuke the coalition instead of nursing it.

Ján Borovský, a ZRS vice-chairman, said that destruction looks likely."We are determined to vote for the law [on extending the banks' privatization if the votes are tied]," he said. "[But] we believe it would be unfortunate if the [vote] destroys two years of common work. We will tell Mr. Premier that we want to stay both in the coalition and in the government."

That may be impossible. After several ZRS deputies voted against or abstained from voting on the penal code amendment, popularly known as the "Protection of the Republic," Ján Slota, chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), the bill's biggest supporter, stated that the time is ripe for early elections.

"In the present political situation it is probably the only way to alleviate the tension," Slota said, adding that when he discussed the matter with Mečiar, the premier agreed. "[Mečiar] said that if there were 90 MPs in parliament willing to support early elections, he wouldn't mind."

But it probably won't happen, since opposition parties are united in letting the Meciar Administration finish its term. Borovský indicated that the ZRS will not support early elections either. "We believe that the current ruling coalition should last until the end of its term," he said.

A head count indicates the idea of early elections would gather only 70 supporters from the HZDS (61) and SNS (9). That could mean, therefore, that if Meciar follows through with his threat, the president will be appointing somebody else to create a new cabinet, which would serve until the end of the regular term, that is, autumn 1998.

But that's something Slota is reluctant to see. "There is a grave risk that the situation would get even worse," he said. "The president would appoint somebody closer to him. That would only bring more antagonism not only in the economy but also in politics."

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