THE LEADERS of the four centre-right parties that won a narrow majority in recent parliamentary elections signed a coalition agreement on October 8, vowing to remain united while painful social reforms are launched in the first half of their four-year term.
The agreement gives each party a veto over basic government decisions, and regards siding with the opposition to defeat a government proposal as a gross breach of faith that could annul the agreement.
The intent, said the deal's authors, was to ensure the government's two-seat majority in the 150-member parliament was sufficient to sustain four years of stable governance.
Outgoing Interior Minister Ivan Šimko, who has been nominated as Defence Minister in the new cabinet, said that coalition party MPs would be expected "to coordinate their activities with their own parliamentary caucuses and those of other coalition parties."
With extensive reform promised for the education, health care, pension and social benefits systems, the coalition government will require regular attendance by its members of parliament, as the absence of even just two MPs could deny the legislature a quorum during important votes.
President Rudolf Schuster voiced doubts regarding the new coalition's stability at the official signing of the agreement, saying that while he was confident of the ethnic Hungarian SMK party and of the Christian Democrats because "they have tough party discipline", he was less sure of the other two members.
"I believe that the Prime Minister [Mikuláš Dzurinda of the SDKÚ] will look after his own party," said Schuster, adding that the leader of the fourth coalition party, Pavol Rusko of Ano, "may buy [the cooperation of] his deputies - I don't know, you know the kinds of things that can happen in this country."
Analysts noted that the cabinet deal did not expressly forbid the raising of deeply controversial topics, such as compensation for ethnic groups that had property confiscated after the second world war, in a sign of what they called mutual trust among the four future members of the government.
"This means that the members of the coalition trust each other enough at the moment that they don't feel the need to include such restrictions in the agreement," said political scientist Ľuboš Kubín of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
Many of the 27 politicians who attended the October 8 signing remarked on the comparative ease with which an agreement had been forged compared to 1998 elections, when a coalition uniting nine parties took over a month to reach a late-night compromise.
"It was much, much, much easier and more flexible," said Dzurinda after only 16 days of talks produced a deal.
The programme similarities between the centre-right parties are expected to make the task of governance far smoother than it was under the wide-spectrum 1998-2002 government.
"Four years ago I learned to smoke in those five weeks [of negotiations]," said SMK leader Béla Bugár.
"This time around I didn't have time to pick up any bad habits."
14. Oct 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson