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COMPLICATED RELATIONS WITH THE CABINET OVERSHADOWED SCHUSTER'S CONTRIBUTIONS

Schuster's mixed record

RUDOLF Schuster was elected to the presidential post in 1999 as the common candidate of the ruling coalition. He gained majority support within the ruling parties - the Party of Civic Understanding, Democratic Left Party, the Hungarian Coalition Party, and, to a considerable extent, also of the Slovak Democratic Coalition.
He managed to push through a clause in the 1998 Coalition Treaty securing him as the common presidential candidate.

RUDOLF Schuster was elected to the presidential post in 1999 as the common candidate of the ruling coalition. He gained majority support within the ruling parties - the Party of Civic Understanding, Democratic Left Party, the Hungarian Coalition Party, and, to a considerable extent, also of the Slovak Democratic Coalition.

He managed to push through a clause in the 1998 Coalition Treaty securing him as the common presidential candidate. It cannot be said, however, that he carried out his post as a pro-coalition or a partisan candidate. While serving his post he had very complicated relations with the group of parties that supported him in the elections.

On one hand, this was linked to the character of his relations with PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, and on the other hand it was marked by his specific ideas about the direction of society's development, particularly in view of the realisation of the reforms.

In this matter he parted with the first as well as the second Dzurinda cabinet. Although Schuster declared his support for reforms, he pointed specifically to their social aspect and therefore often stood against concrete reform steps - both by taking a critical verbal attitude and vetoing approved legislation.

He made use of the latter right very often, beating the previous president Michal Kováč in this respect by returning one seventh [about 14 percent] of approved laws.

Although Schuster stated various reasons for his actions, such as the low quality of the laws, a certain trend could be tracked down in his course. Laws that were related to social-economic reforms provoked his discontent most often. On this issue he came the closest to the attitudes of the opposition parties, especially of Smer.

As far as the execution of power is concerned, it has to be said that these relations never turned into an institutional power struggle as was the case during the term of President Kováč [who was in open conflict with then PM Vladimír Mečiar] despite complicated and even conflicting relations with the cabinet that worsened especially after 2002.

The cabinet, as well as president Schuster and parliament, tried to adhere to the constitutional framework, never exceeding its limits.

The president was often very self-centred, but he never created an alternative centre of power. Of course, this does not mean that during his term there were not any justified questions about his steps. These include his regular veto of laws, and the fact that he never made use of the right to turn to the Constitutional Court on the matter of potentially unconstitutional laws, even though he had insisted that he receive such a right when the constitution was amended.

I would say that Schuster's most problematic move was his decision to merge the date of the presidential elections [in March 2004] with the referendum on early elections. As a result he influenced their overall development - although, counter to his expectations, not in his own favour.

It has to be added that his decision to repeat his candidacy for head of state was unfortunate, unconvincing, and erroneous. If he had not campaigned, his departure from office would be much more dignified.

Schuster was very active in pushing the country's basic foreign-political priorities, especially related to EU and NATO integration, and cooperation with Slovakia's neighbours. He was very outright in this respect and he acted in cooperation with the cabinet. It would be good if his successor [Ivan Gašparovič] continued in these activities.

Schuster took firm and clear stances in crisis situations, even when doing so meant standing against the prevailing trend of public opinion. He proved to be a positive force in strengthening bilateral relations with some states, such as the US and Germany.

Some of his activities in this area were not appreciated by the Slovak media, for instance his contacts in Germany, and the fact that he took part in many prestigious events that were organised specifically in his honour. He may have contributed to that himself by being less active in their promotion at home and giving the domestic media the opportunity [to focus on] other themes, such as his troubled relations with the cabinet.

Grigoril Mesežnikov is the head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava.

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