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What's the effect of the ZRS voting against its partners?

On February 13, the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) voted against its coalition partners - the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) on the issue of bank privatization (see story, page 1). Earlier that week, the ZRS also defied its partners by voting against a revision to the penal code - also known as the Protection of the Republic act. Bank privatization has been one of the HZDS's fundamental goals since taking office in 1994. The Protection of the Republic act is central to the SNS's agenda. It was the first time ZRS had voted against HZDS or SNS. The shock waves have heated up an already hot Slovak political scene.

On February 13, the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) voted against its coalition partners - the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) on the issue of bank privatization (see story, page 1). Earlier that week, the ZRS also defied its partners by voting against a revision to the penal code - also known as the Protection of the Republic act. Bank privatization has been one of the HZDS's fundamental goals since taking office in 1994. The Protection of the Republic act is central to the SNS's agenda. It was the first time ZRS had voted against HZDS or SNS. The shock waves have heated up an already hot Slovak political scene.


Limits have been tested
By Eva Zelenayová



Governments of post-communist countries are faced with the most difficult problems ever left over by a previous regime to its successors. Economic transformation collides with partial interests of many groups. In Slovakia, we are witnessing pressure on the government and ruling coalition from the political opposition. The latest parliamentary session showed that partial success by the opposition is possible. But it will not be permanent!

Simply put, we can say that the coalition partners - SNS and ZRS - have tested their limits during the recent session. During the election campaign, the SNS could ill ignore its voters' requirements to do everything possible to stop destructive forces aimed against the Slovak Republic.

As a solution, the SNS proposed the protection of republic law, later presented to the parliament by the cabinet as a new version of the Penal Code amendment. It caused scandalous reactions from the opposition as well as from abroad which reacted before even knowing the text. It wasn't the cabinet that re-initiated a debate on the new version after it was rejected by the president. It was two (SNS?) deputy versions of the Penal Code amendment that were discussed in parliament, but in the end neither one was passed - thanks mainly to ZRS deputies.

On the other hand, a proposal to postpone the privatization of two banks and two financial institutions was brought up by a DÚ MP, Ľudovít Černák. This passed - thanks to votes by ZRS representatives again.

Although initial reactions of SNS and HZDS leaders were strongly emotional, it is unlikely that passing the law for postponing the privatization of banks and financial institutions and also rejecting the Penal Code amendment could cause a coalition earthquake. As far as the Penal Code is concerned, the government plans to recodify it this year. In the case of postponing the banks' privatization, the cabinet will have to find a solution that will minimize its effect on the state's economic policy. Obviously though, coalition partners' behavior must be different.

Public appearances by ZRS representatives suggest that they have started a self-rescuing pre-election battle to stay on the political stage. One can say they have done so quite clumsily. Especially the president of the FNM board Štefan Gavorník who publicly confessed to certain activities that are not completely in line with his party's declared role.

Supporting an opposition MP's legal initiative also doesn't suggest the party's ability to come up with its own ideas. Political immaturity and incompetence are the ZRS's worst enemies and present a brake to the coalition. However, the brake is not so severe that it is inevitable to hold new elections. In fact, given today's distribution of political forces and the current election system, it wouldn't bring any solution.

The coalitions's majority in parliament is a reliable guarantee for the cabinet. The current coalition hasn't swayed in crucial decisions. However, it is more than obvious that the opposition's endeavor to weaken the cabinet's stability will continue. The breakdown of the economies in several post-communistic countries presents a warning for the Slovak government. It simply cannot give up continuing the economic transformation. Partial victories by the opposition in parliament don't matter in this respect.

Eva Zelenayová is a HZDS MP. She wrote this column in Slovak.
It was translated by Katarína Holčíková.

Political immaturity and incompetence are the ZRS's worst enemies and present a brake to the coalition. However, the brake is not so severe that it is inevitable to hold new elections.


Political stability will win out
By Jozef Glinský



The ruling coalition is made up of representatives from political parties that are at both ends of the political spectrum with a far range of views and ideas. This fact alone, not to mention personal differences, makes smooth cooperation within the coalition almost impossible.

On the other hand, there has always been a strong sense of shared responsibility for the public good in this risky historical period. This common sense has always prevailed until now. I hope that the recent voting pattern of ZRS deputies on the Penal Code amendmant and on the privatization of banks and financial institutions won't lead to a disintegration of the ruling coalition.

This would lead to election campaign thinking or to an escalated confrontation that would inevitably trickle down to all levels of our over-politicized social and economic existence.

Slovakia over the last two years has had social peace and extraordinary economic results because there has been a willingness to compromise and to maintain political stability while implementing a relatively Slovak-specific style of social transformation. To endanger this promising masterpiece would be, mildly put, irresponsible. I think that our partners in the ruling coalition should realize that with respect to our party's election mandate and voters' expectations, the ZRS has given up the most so far.

Personally, I don't consider the request of our coalition partners to privatize the banks to be wrong. The privatization of financial institutions would most likely bring their improved economic performance.

However probability is obviously not a certainty, and the biggest banks are crucial for the proper functioning of this republic's economy. Besides the media, there are those who have been demanding privatization of banking services for several years now. But because of political reasons, there is fear within the population of the current coalition's privatization methods.

Tying the vote on banks' privatization with a vote of confidence to the cabinet will be a difficult problem. ZRS MPs cannot afford to act against the wishes of their members and voters. We simply cannot thrust a dagger through our own heart.

On the other hand, if it is a MPs' obligation - and especially of those for the ZRS - to search for optimum ways for our economic development, I have to state that political stability is the first prerequisite of such development. Taken from a rational point of view, we definitely must not endanger political stability.

Therefore, I think that there is only a very small possiblilty of the current cabinet being recalled. Of course, there are times when emotions explode and it is difficult to predict even one's own reactions. One must sense what choice would be most appropriate then.

There are two banks of key importance - even for numerous HZDS deputies - Slovenská Sporiteľňa and Slovenská Poisťovňa. The other two banks are not so important. It is definitely possible to come to a compromise eventually.

Jozef Glinský is a ZRS MP. He wrote this column in Slovak.
It was translated by Katarína Holčíková.

ZRS MPs cannot afford to act against the wishes of their members and voters. We simply cannot thrust a dagger through our own heart.

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