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CABINET TALKS PROGRESSING AT HIGH SPEED, DIVISION OF POWER BRINGS "NO SURPRISES" TO OBSERVERS

Spoils please coalition parties

RAPID PROGRESS in talks among four centre-right parties forming the next cabinet has yielded a deal on power-sharing, as well as a compromise on key ministry posts between the Christian Democrats minor coalition partner and the SDKÚ party of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Unlike in 1998, when the four victorious parties of that year's elections took the full 30 days allowed by law to hammer out a cabinet deal, this year the Christian Democrats, SDKÚ, Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the New Citizen's Alliance (Ano) agreed on a division of cabinet seats within a week of September 20-21 elections.
While not receiving an official mandate to lead cabinet talks from President Rudolf Schuster until September 27, Dzurinda started cabinet negotiations with the other three party leaders the day after the ballot, and by September 30 was able to announce that all sides had agreed on a framework deal.


SENIOR SDKÚ party members Mikloš, Dzurinda, Šimko and Kukan (left to right) are expected to take powerful cabinet seats.
photo: TASR

RAPID PROGRESS in talks among four centre-right parties forming the next cabinet has yielded a deal on power-sharing, as well as a compromise on key ministry posts between the Christian Democrats minor coalition partner and the SDKÚ party of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.

Unlike in 1998, when the four victorious parties of that year's elections took the full 30 days allowed by law to hammer out a cabinet deal, this year the Christian Democrats, SDKÚ, Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the New Citizen's Alliance (Ano) agreed on a division of cabinet seats within a week of September 20-21 elections.

While not receiving an official mandate to lead cabinet talks from President Rudolf Schuster until September 27, Dzurinda started cabinet negotiations with the other three party leaders the day after the ballot, and by September 30 was able to announce that all sides had agreed on a framework deal.

"There is happiness," Dzurinda said on September 30.

Soňa Szomolányi, head of political science at Bratislava's Comenius University, said neither the speed of the talks nor the division of power had come as a suprise, mainly as "three out of the four partners have been together in this cabinet already and their interests and party priorities are generally known."

Decsribing the new cabinet as a promising, pro-reform body, Szomolányi said that compared to the previous wide-spectrum coalition formed in 1998 and consisting of nine political parties, the current homogeneous group was in a better position to push through its programme goals.

"Just as four years ago, expectations are high, and are increased by the fact that the coalition is a politically more similar than the previous 'coalition of coalitions'," she said, employing a term frequently used to describe the 1998-2002 cabinet.

"Although we shouldn't expect too much even now, when you look at it objectively the new cabinet will likely function more easily and smoothly than its predecessor."

The SDKÚ has announced it will nominate its people to the PM's chair and the foreign affairs, finance, defence, labour and transport ministry portfolios.

With current Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan tipped to continue in his role and current Deputy PM for Economy Ivan Mikloš to move over to the crucial Finance Ministry leadership, the next cabinet is expected to ensure stability in both foreign and macroeconomic policy, both areas in which the 1998-2002 Dzurinda government won praise.

The only major battle for a ministerial post was fought between the SDKÚ and the Christian Democrats over the interior portfolio, with the latter party's candidate, Vladimír Palko, eventually forcing current Interior Ministry Ivan Šimko over to the defence chair. The Christian Democrats also took the education and justice resorts, with 29-year-old lawyer Daniel Lipšic, a Harvard graduate, likely to take the justuce seat and become Slovakia's youngest-ever minister.

The SMK, as the second strongest coalition party according to election results, took the agriculture, environment and regional development seats. The party has held the latter two portfolios in the current government, but has long coveted agriculture to bolster its land claims in the ethnic Hungarian south of Slovakia.

The party also won the only Deputy PM slot, but as this portfolio is not backed by a ministry, it is generally regarded as the weakest seat in the cabinet.

Ano, in the meantime, took economy and health care, and in a controversial move also the Culture Ministry post, from which it will exercise power over the national media. The party's leader, Pavol Rusko, is still a co-owner and founder of the country's most popular private TV station, Markíza, and has been issued several fines this year by a state watchdog for abusing the station to promote Ano.

But Rusko assured journalists that "in a short time I will transfer my share in Markíza, and not to a family member."

Ano's Rudolf Chmelár, the former Czechoslovak ambassador to Hungary, has been suggested for the Culture Ministry post.

The new cabinet will be slimmer than the current one, at 16 seats rather than 20, and will contain not a single woman, down from three in the 1998-2002 government. Four current cabinet members are expected to keep their seats, while another two will likely remain in government but at new posts.

Dzurinda and his partners have said that their shared priorities lie with health care and pension system reform, completion of the a state power decentralisation plan, as well as a tax cut.

As The Slovak Spectator went to print, the coalition was discussing its programme priorities and was expected to announce the names of new ministers along with the special posts in parliament that coalition members would take.

Apart from the posts of speaker and three deputy speakers of parliament, the legislature is expected to have 16 parliamentary committees, each of which traditionally gets a politically delegated chairman.

Dzurinda pledged that committee posts would be distributed proportionally among the coalition and opposition parties.

"We are interested in making sure the opposition receives as many chairman posts as it is entitled to according to the election results," Dzurinda said.

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