PRESIDENT Rudolf Schuster has decided that the referendum on early elections will be held on April 3, the same day as the first round of presidential elections.
Tying the two may increase Schuster's chances of re-election, according to insiders, and boost referendum participation, which needs to reach 50 percent if the plebiscite is to be valid.
The public vote was initiated by the labour unions, which collected over 600,000 petition signatures supporting the referendum, which is also backed by the opposition party Smer.
The president argued that with the elections for European Parliament, two rounds of presidential elections, and possible early elections all ahead in this year, Slovak citizens might experience some voting fatigue, which he wants to avoid.
"I have serious grounds to believe that it would be very difficult to motivate people to turn out to the polls each time," Schuster told journalists upon announcing his decision on February 4, adding that total expenses would be higher if the plebiscite and the presidential elections were held separately.
Experts from the Interior Ministry and the Statistics Office have said this argument is incorrect, stating that the simultaneous casting of ballots will require double the resources and technology, thus driving costs up.
Political adversaries say Schuster's actions are driven only by a desire for personal gain.
"[By his decision, Schuster] put his personal interest in being re-elected over the public interest," said Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský, head of the coalition member the Christian Democratic Movement.
Hrušovský's claim is based on the widely accepted assumption that Schuster, who has recently been highly critical of the government, hopes many of the dissatisfied people who come to the referendum will also take part in the presidential elections and vote for him.
Moreover, Smer may still decide to endorse him as their candidate of choice. "The pick is down to two candidates - Rudolf Schuster and Ivan Gašparovič," Smer leader Robert Fico told the daily Pravda on February 3.
An opinion poll conducted by the Statistics office shows Schuster in third place in the race for the presidency with 16.7 percent of voters behind him.
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan leads with 23.8 percent, followed by ex-PM Vladimír Mečiar, boss of the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, with 17.4 percent.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the top two contenders will meet in a second round.
Some legal experts have suggested that a referendum would not have to be held at all if the Constitutional Court ruled that shortening the legislature's four-year election term was unconstitutional.
However, Schuster decided not to consult the issue with the top legislative body before calling the plebiscite, which also stirred criticism.
"We are just going to waste a lot of money. It's politically dishonest, unfair and deceitful, because the rules of the game say that every cabinet has a four-year mandate," said PM Mikuláš Dzurinda at a press conference on February 3.
"The president has used his right and it doesn't suit other politicians to comment on it, only to respect it," Smer vice-chairman Robert Kaliňák told the TASR news agency.
The Communist Party of Slovakia and the labour unions have both welcomed the referendum.
9. Feb 2004 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila