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OPPOSITION EXPECTED TO REJECT PROGRAMME, CALLING IT "WAY TO HELL"

PM presents cabinet manifesto

PRIME MINISTER Mikuláš Dzurinda presented his cabinet's programme to parliament, stressing its four main goals of joining the European Union (EU) and Nato, trimming and improving the civil service, fighting corruption and integrating the Roma minority into society.
Dzurinda's wish to have "at least one" opposition member of parliament (MP) support his cabinet programme seemed unlikely, as the opposition described it as the "worst ever" manifesto and a "way to hell".
Apart from a pledge to take the country into the EU and Nato, Dzurinda's 45-page cabinet programme presented in parliament November 5 promised a number of reforms in social and economic spheres, including cutting down costs in the public sector, reforming the pension and health care systems, and introducing fees for university education (see Select goals of cabinet).


PRIME MINISTER Mikuláš Dzurinda's cabinet manifesto emphasizes austerity and reform.
photo: TASR

PRIME MINISTER Mikuláš Dzurinda presented his cabinet's programme to parliament, stressing its four main goals of joining the European Union (EU) and Nato, trimming and improving the civil service, fighting corruption and integrating the Roma minority into society.

Dzurinda's wish to have "at least one" opposition member of parliament (MP) support his cabinet programme seemed unlikely, as the opposition described it as the "worst ever" manifesto and a "way to hell".

Apart from a pledge to take the country into the EU and Nato, Dzurinda's 45-page cabinet programme presented in parliament November 5 promised a number of reforms in social and economic spheres, including cutting down costs in the public sector, reforming the pension and health care systems, and introducing fees for university education (see Select goals of cabinet).

Defining the manifesto as a "programme of necessary reforms and an attempt to get the state functioning more efficiently", Dzurinda pledged that his ministers would "work in the best interests of the country".

A debate on the programme and a final vote of confidence in the new Dzurinda cabinet was scheduled for November 12. A simple majority of the total 150 MPs is required to legitimize the cabinet and its programme, and the quorum that made up the coalition, with its 78 MPs, is "absolutely certain" of a positive outcome.

"The cabinet manifesto will be approved for sure. I am deeply convinced of this," said Zuzana Martináková, deputy speaker of parliament and vice-chair of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).

The cabinet is, however, unlikely to attract opposition support, with Robert Fico, head of the opposition Smer party saying the programme was "full of restrictions, making everything more expensive [for the citizens]. That is a way to hell".

Martináková said she expected comments like that to be made during the planned debate prior to the final vote of confidence.

"I expect a long and exhausting debate. There is no time limit set for debates on cabinet programmes, and the opposition has the full right to use this space. If I were them I would do the same," she said.

Vladimír Mečiar, head of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), who said the programme presented by Dzurinda was "the worst ever" in the history of independent Slovakia, even doubted the very essence of the Dzurinda cabinet - its right-wing nature.

"This is not a right-wing programme, I beg your pardon. It is a socialist programme par excellence. These are not austerity measures; the austerity is make-believe," Mečiar told The Slovak Spectator.

"In order to gain support in parliament, the previous [Dzurinda] ruling coalition approved a number of laws promising [various social benefits] scheduled to take effect in January 2003. This so-called austerity will result in these laws being scrapped before they take effect. That is not austerity but a political pre-election trick," he said.

However, in terms of the foreign policy priorities, Mečiar said the HZDS had "an identical opinion to that of the coalition", a view also shared by Fico's Smer.

Political analysts said the cabinet's plans would lead to positive developments for the country. They also approved of the cabinet's top four priorities - Western integration, trimming the civil service and making it more efficient, fighting corruption and integrating large groups of socially disadvantaged Roma minority into the society.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, said that "if what is in the programme is pushed through, the country will be in better shape and positive results may come even before the next parliamentary elections".

Noting that the manifesto included few figures, and thus few definite goals, Ľuboš Kubín, political analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, called the document "highly diplomatic".

While the previous cabinet pledged to bring the country's unemployment rate down to 10 per cent and failed, drawing fierce criticism for that failure, the new cabinet avoided the use of numbers, stating only that it wanted to lower the jobless rate.

"Unlike the previous Dzurinda government, the new cabinet has avoided the use specific figures, probably having learned from the past. The last cabinet was very much criticised for failing to achieve its ambitious goals," Kubín said.

Mesežnikov, however, praised as decisive the "cabinet's attempt to solve problems in a systematic manner".

In order to fulfill the cabinet's goals, said Kubín, it would be crucial that the coalition sticks together. The coalition has 78 votes in parliament, while for passage of most laws a simple majority, 76, is required.

"The Achilles' heel could be if one of the partners finds itself potentially losing points with their electorate. To avoid problems, no coalition party can ever behave like a small sulky child," Kubín said.

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