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ANALYSTS DOUBT THAT UNIONS WILL SUCCEED; OPPOSITION REMAINS CONFIDENT IN ITS ACTIONS

Petition for early elections gets rolling

THE CONFEDERATION of Trade Unions (KOZ) and several left-wing political parties have launched a petition calling for a referendum on early elections in response to what initiators said was the bad social policy of the current cabinet.
Should the petition collect the 350,000 signatures needed to succeed, President Rudolf Schuster would then call a referendum that, to be valid, would require that at least 50 percent of voters participate in the popular vote.

THE CONFEDERATION of Trade Unions (KOZ) and several left-wing political parties have launched a petition calling for a referendum on early elections in response to what initiators said was the bad social policy of the current cabinet.

Should the petition collect the 350,000 signatures needed to succeed, President Rudolf Schuster would then call a referendum that, to be valid, would require that at least 50 percent of voters participate in the popular vote.

But even with that possibly achieved, analysts have expressed doubts about whether the call for a replacement of the current cabinet would be successful. The opinion of constitutional lawyers is split on whether referendum results are binding on the parliament. It would have to be the MPs themselves who would approve early elections.

But the trade unions, as well as opposition parties such as Smer, the Slovak Communist Party (KSS), and some marginal non-parliamentary parties, including the former ruling Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), maintained that their petition can succeed, arguing that a majority of Slovaks are unhappy with the current cabinet's performance.

At the start of the petition on November 15, the KOZ organized meetings in eight regional towns around the country, with reports suggesting that mainly older citizens were attending.

"If there were at least one left-wing party in the cabinet, the attitude towards solving the people's social and economic problems would be different," deputy chairman of KOZ Peter Gajdoš said.

"We will look for leaders who respect the people who elected them and will serve them," head of KOZ Ivan Saktor said at a meeting.

Smer's active participation in the petition has been clear proof that the opposition party and its leader, Robert Fico, are "using every chance to try and get to power", said Soňa Szomolányi, head of the political science department of Comenius University in Bratislava.

The analyst said, however, that the current right-wing cabinet was introducing unpopular reforms, including changes to the pension, health care, and education systems that could provoke the animosity of part of the electorate.

Yet, she insisted, the petition had little chance of succeeding.

"It is hard to explain to people who have to try hard to make ends meet that the reforms are inevitable. But I think that most voters realize that the reforms are inevitable and, above all, that there is no real alternative to the current cabinet," Szomolányi said.

When asked how he imagined the cabinet if the referendum and, consequently, early elections took place, central secretary of KSS Ladislav Jača said to The Slovak Spectator: "That, we don't know yet."

"The time when the KSS could be a cabinet party has not come, but we are working on it," Jača said.

Fico, meanwhile, said at a press conference on November 14 that new cabinet partners would agree to carry out, if possible, "social reforms in a way that makes them socially bearable".

He said his party was prepared to agree on forming the cabinet with any party, regardless of their ideology.

The ruling parties and their officials, including PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, have paid little attention to the petition on early elections and have largely said it is a legitimate democratic right.

Dzurinda did say, however, that Fico's involvement in the petition was "unfair and dishonest".

"Robert Fico could not wait [to get to power] in the previous election term, and he cannot wait in this term either. If the opposition started to organise early elections after every election, what government would be able to carry out reforms?" said Dzurinda.

The trade unions, meanwhile, faced criticism for meddling with politics.

"It is as if KOZ has failed to realise that it is not just the cabinet who can change conditions for employees, but also the employers themselves. KOZ failed to do their job properly and achieved nothing with employers, and are now blaming the cabinet for everything," said Szomolányi.

But the trade unions insisted that, at the regular tripartite meetings at which representatives of the unions, cabinet, and employers meet, "[we] negotiated as much as we could" and that the cabinet was uncompromising.

If the petition succeeds for KOZ and the left-wing parties, Fico said early elections could take place in autumn next year.

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