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GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO PASS A SINGLE ELECTION CODE THIS YEA

Voting laws to be unified

WITH the next regular election now years away, the governing coalition has set out on a path to unify the rules for all of Slovakia’s elections and consolidate them into a single law, an Election Code. The move is expected to be one of the government’s most important reform initiatives in 2011 and the prime minister has already announced that she will seek agreement across the political spectrum to pass the legislation.

(Source: TASR)

WITH the next regular election now years away, the governing coalition has set out on a path to unify the rules for all of Slovakia’s elections and consolidate them into a single law, an Election Code. The move is expected to be one of the government’s most important reform initiatives in 2011 and the prime minister has already announced that she will seek agreement across the political spectrum to pass the legislation.

Currently, the five different elections held in Slovakia – parliamentary, presidential, municipal, regional, and for the European Parliament – are governed by five different laws, each with its own rules which differ to a smaller or larger extent. For example, there are different rules for financing election campaigns, on election moratoriums and their length, and in several other significant areas. The governing coalition announced in early January that it will seek new and unified rules in accordance with its programme statement adopted last year.

The draft Election Code is expected to be completed in May 2011. The Interior Ministry confirmed that a working group has been established to prepare the draft. The coalition hopes to present the legislative proposal to MPs at their September session. Pursuing the changes now is quite well-timed since there is a considerable period before Slovakia’s next regular election takes place – the regional government elections due in autumn 2013. Then 2014 will see what has been called a ‘super-election year’, with four major elections taking place: parliamentary, presidential, European and municipal.



The changes



“Unification of the rules for all kinds of elections will make the situation more transparent, not only for the political parties but also for media which inform the voters [about the elections],” Erik Láštic, a political analyst from the political science department of Comenius University’s Faculty of Philosophy, said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.

The major changes that Prime Minister Iveta Radičová announced after the January 11 session of the Coalition Council include: introduction of equivalent time limits and equivalent transparency and review mechanisms for all elections; unified moratorium rules; no financial limit for any election campaign; and cancellation of the financial contribution that political parties receive from the state treasury for each parliamentary mandate.

Other changes that would not be a part of the Election Code but would be introduced via other laws include making vote-buying a more serious crime and allowing voting via the internet. The coalition announced that a special law will be designed for internet voting because, according to the coalition, the matter is very complex and requires that several technicalities be dealt with in detail.



Broad support is sought



The coalition has said that it intends to seek political support for the new election rules across the political spectrum and is hoping for support from the opposition as well.

Robert Fico, the head of Smer, the biggest opposition party, said his party “has nothing against” a unified Election Code but expects that there will be a thorough discussion among the political players “because elections concern every party”.

Fico, however, stated that he did not agree with the coalition proposal to terminate state
financing of parties based on a certain contribution for each parliamentary mandate.

“I am very worried that this way they will give the political parties over to [financial] sponsors, because if a party gets legal money from the state for election results it is not entirely dependent on donors,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that membership dues and state contributions are sufficient for any party to finance all its activities.



Financing cuts questioned



Under current rules, political parties get three different kinds of contributions from the state: for the level of their activities, for the number of votes received in elections, and for the number of parliamentary mandates. Together, political parties received around €34 million from the state over the past election term (2006-2010), the Sme daily reported.

Láštic noted that the per-mandate contribution is the smallest of the three kinds of state financing that the parties receive.

Lawyer Milan Galanda, who ran in the 2010 national elections on the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) slate and currently serves as an adviser to Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík (SaS), has stated that the relationship between the state and the political parties needs to be redefined.



“The state contribution should consider not only the party’s result in the parliamentary election, but also the results in other elections and a certain ‘meritocracy’,” Galanda told The Slovak Spectator, adding that parties should also be ‘rewarded’ for the size of their membership, their activities, their ability to raise funds from other sources, their sympathisers and so forth.

Galanda also believes that limits for how much money a party can get from the state as well as from individuals should be strictly set.

“What is necessary is new and detailed regulation of bookkeeping and controls,” Galanda said. “This [book-keeping] must be open, public, and in the event there are violations, sanction mechanisms must work well.”



Expats call for new rules too



Discussion about a new Election Code has again brought up the issue of Slovak citizens voting from abroad. According to the law on parliamentary elections that became effective in 2004, citizens of Slovakia are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections by mail if they are not physically present in Slovakia on the day of the election. None of the other election laws provide this possibility for Slovak citizens who have permanent addresses outside the country.

Ján Bilik, the president of the civic association Migrácia SK, said in an earlier interview with The Slovak Spectator that there are about two million Slovaks living abroad, while an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 of these still hold Slovak citizenship – mainly those living temporarily or permanently abroad who have retained a permanent address in Slovakia.


Despite these significant numbers, the number of Slovaks voting by mail in 2006 (the first time the possibility was granted) was only 3,427.

Bilik said there are no statistics about which countries the votes came from but he thought it most likely that many came from the Czech Republic.

There are several reasons why casting an absentee ballot has been difficult for Slovaks living abroad. One frequently mentioned reason is that people find the procedure complicated and time-consuming.

Experts agree that it should be made possible for Slovak expats to vote at Slovak embassies and consulates. If voting via the internet is made possible – although there are many critical voices against such an option, arguing it will make elections more expensive, less safe and more vulnerable to vote-buying practices – it would present another option for Slovaks living outside the country to participate in electing their representatives.


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