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OBSERVERS BELIEVE COALITION WILL SURVIVE ONGOING TURMOIL

Abortions Hungarian law puts cabinet to test

THE RULING parties are going through a new test of unity, with one major dispute not yet resolved and another emerging.
But top state officials and other observers believe that despite a heated conflict between ruling conservatives and liberals over an amendment to the abortions law, and a recently passed Hungarian law that pits three coalition partners against the fourth, the coalition with survive intact.
In the first instance, the conservative Christian Democrats (KDH) and the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) are currently engaged in a dramatic dispute over a draft amendment to the country's abortions law.


CRACKS in the ruling coalition are widening over a number of controversial issues.
photo: TASR

THE RULING parties are going through a new test of unity, with one major dispute not yet resolved and another emerging.

But top state officials and other observers believe that despite a heated conflict between ruling conservatives and liberals over an amendment to the abortions law, and a recently passed Hungarian law that pits three coalition partners against the fourth, the coalition with survive intact.

In the first instance, the conservative Christian Democrats (KDH) and the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) are currently engaged in a dramatic dispute over a draft amendment to the country's abortions law.

The draft would implant existing Health Ministry guidelines into the body of the main abortions law to enable abortions to be carried out until the 24th week of pregnancy if the foetus shows signs of severe genetic disorders.

Throughout the debate over the draft, the KDH and ANO officials have made their opposing stances over the issue clear, and the stability of the cabinet at one time seemed at risk.

While the KDH interior minister Vladimír Palko said recently that for his party, "human life was more important than the fate of one ruling coalition", ANO insisted it thought people had a right to decide over personal matters such as abortions.

ANO members fear that the Constitutional Court, which the KDH has requested inspect the matter, might rule as unconstitutional the existing guidelines allowing abortions to the 24th week of pregnancy on grounds of genetic disorders.

However, after nearly two months of wrangling, agreement on this delicate matter now seems to be imminent.

Just one day before MPs were expected to vote on the second reading of the draft on June 25, ANO's deputy chairman Ľubomír Lintner said his party would be prepared to hold back submitting their draft to a final, third reading until the Constitutional Court's ruling is delivered. That is expected in September.

According to Soňa Szomolányi, political analyst at Bratislava's Comenius University, the matter should be considered resolved for the moment, and the coalition partners will continue their work in cabinet, albeit "with scars".

In another dispute, the KDH, ANO, and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) are standing against their coalition partner, the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), over a rewritten version of the Hungarian nationals' law approved by the Hungarian parliament on June 23.

The law grants financial help from the Hungarian government to Hungarians living in neighbouring states. The majority of Slovak political parties, including Dzurinda's SDKÚ, believe that the law is not acceptable because it is discriminatory to ethnic Slovaks. Roughly 10 percent of Slovak citizens claim Hungarian ethnicity.

Dzurinda said that Slovakia was not going to allow a foreign law to take effect on its territory, and said the state was prepared to take countermeasures against the Hungarian legislation.

These two disputes, and particularly over the abortions matter, led many to fear that Dzurinda's cabinet could fall apart, but analysts are now rejecting such a possibility.

"Although such conflicts naturally undermine the coalition's unity, politicians know very well that if they want to rule, they need to reach agreement," said Szomolányi.

She added: "It is a shame, however, that at a time when reforms should be carried out by the cabinet, for two months politicians have been wasting time on the abortion debate."

Meanwhile, the Hungarian law and Slovakia's possible measures against the legislation were expected to dominate a late-night meeting of coalition partners on June 25.

The Hungarian issue is sensitive in Slovakia because the country was part of Greater Hungary for nearly 1,000 years. Many nationalist politicians have fanned the flames of the debate by feeding anti-Hungarian rhetoric to the electorate.

KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský said that no measures in response to the law would be approved "without agreement from our coalition partners".

SMK chairman Béla Bugár, meanwhile, said that his party was prepared to defend the Hungarian legislation, and argued that problematic articles had been eliminated from the rewritten law. And he warned that if the SMK's coalition partners passed a countermeasure without their approval, it would be considered a breach of the coalition agreement.

But analyst Michal Vašečka from the Institute for Public Affairs think tank believes that any response from the Slovak cabinet will not come until after the summer, when emotions surrounding the Hungarian law will have calmed down.

Observers also reminded the cabinet that the opposition, particularly popular politician Robert Fico and his Smer party, were watching for any chance to destabilise the cabinet and seize power.

In the midst of the abortions dispute, Fico made a call for early elections, which he suggested could take place in spring 2004, just before the state's expected entry into the EU.

"Fico has tried to use every chance to destabilise the cabinet, and so [coalition] partners should bear in mind what brought them together in the first place [after the September 2002 elections] - an agreement that there are certain reforms that this country needs to carry out," Szomolányi said.

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