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RUMOURS SUGGEST BÚTORA COULD REPLACE KUKAN IN MINISTERIAL SEAT

Former ambassador denies deal

FREE Forum (SF) party representatives have denied rumours of an agreement to secure stability for the ruling coalition in parliament by replacing presidential hopeful Eduard Kukan, the country's Foreign Minister, with another presidential prospect, Martin Bútora, should the former win the presidential race.
Kukan is a member of PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) while Bútora is a non-affiliated candidate for whom Ivan Šimko's SF expressed support in the presidential elections.

FREE Forum (SF) party representatives have denied rumours of an agreement to secure stability for the ruling coalition in parliament by replacing presidential hopeful Eduard Kukan, the country's Foreign Minister, with another presidential prospect, Martin Bútora, should the former win the presidential race.

Kukan is a member of PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) while Bútora is a non-affiliated candidate for whom Ivan Šimko's SF expressed support in the presidential elections.

Rumours suggested that Bútora's replacement of Kukan, who led the opinion polls with over 25 percent support, could indirectly include the SF in the cabinet and thus secure the votes of SF MPs for the ruling coalition, which currently has 67 MPs in parliament, nine short of a majority.

The SF currently has seven MPs including those who left the SDKÚ at the end of last year over their disagreement with some of the PM's political decisions. Another two MPs who left the ruling New Citizen's Alliance now act as independent legislators but have consistently supported cabinet laws in parliamentary voting.

Although such agreement would, according to observers, offer a solution to the current minority position of the ruling coalition in parliament, Šimko as well as Bútora denied that any discussions had taken place.

"There is no such agreement and there are no talks regarding one either. It is a nonsensical speculation," Šimko told The Slovak Spectator on March 15.

Bútora, who is the former Slovak ambassador to Washington, said he had never talked to anyone about such a possibility.

"I did not enter the [presidential] race with the idea of political bargaining or of some such agreement. I haven't talked to anyone about such a thing," Bútora said in a March 14 interview with the private TV station Markíza.

He did not rule out, however, entering politics after April 17, the date of the second round of the presidential elections, if he is not elected president.

PM Dzurinda also rejected the existence of such an agreement.

"This talk [regarding the alleged plan] is mistaken and irrelevant. Slovakia has its foreign minister," he said at a press conference on March 15.

The possibility that the SF would enter the ruling coalition was unlikely according to SF member Zuzana Martináková.

She maintained that the SF would not join a cabinet led by Dzurinda, and she also said that the Foreign Ministry post would not make her party forget its original demands on the cabinet.

Since the SF was formed, the party has stressed the need for a "politics of values" referring to a greater need for democratic decision making, and it has also demanded that the right wing cabinet coordinate its extensive reforms so that weaker groups of society do not suffer under the changes.

The SF also demanded that the head of the National Security Office, an institution that carries out security screenings on people who have access to classified information, be elected and recalled by parliament rather than the cabinet in order to eliminate cabinet influence.

None of the demands have been met, however. In a recent vote of compromise, MPs passed a new law on the security office under which the office chief will be named and recalled by parliament but based on the cabinet's proposals.

One SF demand, however, the SDKÚ is prepared to meet.

The SF wants a parliamentary committee for the coordination of reforms to be created and, if possible, led by a SF member.

"We are prepared to support the creation of the committee if the SF convinces other parliamentary parties of the need for such a committee," said Milan Hort, the head of the SDKÚ parliamentary caucus.

Other ruling parties have signalled that they do not want the SF to reach an agreement with other parliamentary forces and have repeated that the PM's SDKÚ should make sure parliamentary balance is returned.

"Those who have lost MPs should secure the [missing] votes," said Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský, the chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Movement.

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