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MYSTERY SURROUNDS ELECTION OF NEW DEPUTY SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT

Coalition promises broken

THE PARLIAMENT'S surprising failure to elect Ľubomír Lintner for deputy speaker of parliament did not cause an immediate crisis between ruling parties, but it may lead to a further weakening of the coalition.
The Slovak parliament has four deputy speakers, of whom three representatives are from the ranks of the ruling coalition, and one belongs to the opposition. One of the coalition seats has been vacant since late September, when leader of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) Pavol Rusko left the parliament to become the country's new economy minister.
Under the coalition agreement, a document in which the coalition parties agreed on the distribution of top political posts and main political priorities when the coalition formed, ANO is entitled to hold one of the four deputy speaker seats.

THE PARLIAMENT'S surprising failure to elect Ľubomír Lintner for deputy speaker of parliament did not cause an immediate crisis between ruling parties, but it may lead to a further weakening of the coalition.

The Slovak parliament has four deputy speakers, of whom three representatives are from the ranks of the ruling coalition, and one belongs to the opposition. One of the coalition seats has been vacant since late September, when leader of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) Pavol Rusko left the parliament to become the country's new economy minister.

Under the coalition agreement, a document in which the coalition parties agreed on the distribution of top political posts and main political priorities when the coalition formed, ANO is entitled to hold one of the four deputy speaker seats.

ANO put forward Lintner, the party's vice-chairman and head of the ANO parliamentary caucus. Although none of the coalition parties has officially objected to the nomination, Lintner failed to be elected in two consecutive attempts, on October 29 and 30.

"I don't mean to insist on my election any longer," announced Lintner after the second round of voting, adding that he had lost trust in the coalition parties. Lintner did not stick to his earlier threat that if he were not elected, he would leave the coalition ranks. However, he did warn that the ruling parties could not necessarily be sure of his vote.

"If I come to the conclusion that [a proposal] does not correspond with the coalition agreement, I may vote differently than the coalition," Lintner said for the TA3 news channel.

Although disappointed by the outcome of the voting, ANO has not decided to take any steps against the other coalition members.

"It's their shame and their inability to be fair," said ANO boss Rusko of his coalition partners after the results became known. But he stressed that the ruling parties do not need to fear ANO's reaction.

"We cannot place our own problems above the stability of the country," Rusko said.

The support of more than 75 MPs out of the 150-member parliamentary assembly is required to be elected. The caucuses of the ruling parties have exactly 75 members, and there are three former ANO members who declare their support for the coalition.

In an effort to prevent its members from making secret deals with ANO, and to show the true extent of support for Lintner among coalition members, the opposition did not participate in the election, in which Lintner stood as the only candidate.

Miroslav Abelovský of the opposition People's Union (ĽÚ), who has ambitions to run for the seat of attorney general in elections to be held in parliament early next year, was the only one to break that agreement and took part in the first failed attempt to elect Lintner.

In the second round, only the 78 MPs claiming to support the coalition voted.

However, many of these MPs seemed unconvinced that Lintner was the right man for the job, as he received only 60 votes in the first round of the secret election, and 63 out of the 78 in the second. Both results left him well under the required mark of 76 votes.

None of the coalition MPs has openly admitted to not voting for Lintner, and there are several potential renegades.

In their initial reactions to Lintner's nomination in late September, some members of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) supposedly indicated they might not support the ANO candidate, due to Lintner's voting record in parliament.

However, before the vote, KDH representatives said that they respected the coalition agreement and ANO's right to put forward any candidate they want.

"Those numbers tell you a lot, and I therefore refuse any speculation that KDH was the one responsible for Lintner's failed election," said KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský, after the first round, for the TA3 news channel.

The KDH caucus has 15 members. As many as 20 MPs did not support Lintner in the first round.

The KDH boss said that perhaps not even all ANO MPs voted for their party's candidate.

"I have information that some representatives of this party [ANO] did not support Lintner," he said. The leader of the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Béla Bugár, also claimed that Lintner might have lost some votes in his own caucus.

Rusko ruled out the possibility that ANO might be part of the problem. He told the daily SME that he knew which two caucuses of the four-member coalitions failed to ensure that all their members voted for Lintner.

"There are three [coalition caucuses besides ANO's], pick two," he told SME when asked who was against ANO's candidate.

Numerous media sources have speculated that Ivan Šimko, an MP for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), used the secret voting to show political muscle. Šimko was recalled from the position of Interior Minister, as well as SDKÚ vice-chairman, after he refused to follow party orders in a vote in the government.

From his ministerial post, Šimko returned to parliament and announced that he no longer feels bound by party instructions.

On October 30, Śimko told journalists that "the situation within the party is sick" and is characterized by "an atmosphere of fear and oppression".

However, Šimko, who has not ruled out plans to run for president in next year's elections, has said he would not leave the SDKÚ yet, but will rather try to change it from the inside. "The party cannot heal without a change in leadership," he said.

Although no one has publicly backed Šimko, a number of SDKÚ MPs may be behind him in his struggle for an internal reform of the SDKÚ.

Commentators point out that they may have used the occasion of the secret vote to prove their strength.

Lintner himself sees this option as one of the reasons for the outcome.

"A portion of SDKÚ MPs probably wanted to avenge what happened between [PM and SDKÚ boss Mikuláš] Dzurinda and Ivan Šimko," Lintner told the daily SME.

He has also suggested that some MPs may feel resentment towards him for his past journalistic work. Lintner previously worked as a reporter with TV Markíza, formerly owned and run by media mogul Rusko.

For the time being, the seat of deputy speaker of parliament remains vacant. ANO has announced plans to put forward a new candidate for the post within weeks and has launched negotiations with the opposition to ensure sufficient support for the next nominee.

"In a secret vote [the coalition partners] can't be trusted," explained Rusko on November 3.

Two out of four opposition parties - the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Smer - have already ruled out support for any ANO candidate.

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