Letter to the Editor, Re: Referendum on Early Elections
After reading the response to Rudolf Schuster's decision to hold the referendum on early elections the same day as the presidential election, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending this otherwise unsympathetic president. Of course the votes should be held on the same day. Why not? An election has already been scheduled and now another vote must take place. Put them together and save the voters an extra trip to the ballot box.
The petulant, sour-grapes response of Pavol Hrušovský, Mikuláš Dzurinda, and others has been pathetic. The complaint that Schuster is just serving his own interests is mere conjecture. The idea that someone will vote for Schuster because of this decision is specious at best. Schuster is standing third in the opinion polls and that hasn't changed since his announcement. And even if he cut a deal with Smer and gets Robert Fico's endorsement, well, that's just the nature of politics. It won't help him. People are tired of this old man. He might as well plan his retirement now.
It's worth pointing out that after the failed referendum on early elections in November 2000, the coalition complained that the vote was a great waste of money. Millions of crowns were spent organising and conducting a referendum for a measly 20 percent turnout. Now they say the opposite. One election with two ballots will actually cost more than two separate elections! Right.
No, what Hrušovský and others fear is democracy. They fear judgement. They've done little but squabble internally since their surprise 2002 election victory and now they face what could amount to censure from the voters, and just a month before joining the EU. They'd rather run a separate election and hope that voters stay away than risk the opinion of a majority.
The irony is that the coalition should have nothing to fear anyway. Roughly 30 percent of the voters still support the coalition parties. If that 30 percent ignore the referendum, the chances it will reach the 50 percent level are slim. And even if the 50 percent threshold is met, the parliament may not be required to honour it unless the opposition can muster 90 votes in favour of early elections. Yes, it would be embarrassing to ignore a valid referendum. But if it's constitutional to ignore it, then let them be embarrassed and move on. It might actually focus their thinking again.
The most troubling question in all this hasn't been addressed by either "experts" or politicians: why this insistence on referendum after referendum? The opposition lost in 1998 and got a referendum two years later. They lost again in 2002 and will get a referendum in 2004. This lack of patience with democracy should trouble people far more than Schuster's decision. Sadly, it seems to be the way democracies are heading. If your side loses, then immediately find a mechanism for recall. It's reminiscent of recent events in California. The incumbent governor won re-election and immediately a recall vote was organised, leading a year later to the unwelcome phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger".
Personally, I hope the referendum fails to get 50 percent participation. It would be a great triumph for the coalition, a great vote of confidence, and one its members clearly do not expect. The result could surprise them. It might restore their self-confidence. It might even restore their lost faith in democracy.
16. Feb 2004 at 0:00