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Deal reached over interim government

AFTER a period of uncertainty over who would govern the country until the next general election in March 2012, the leaders of the centre-right parties and Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič agreed on a solution on October 20. The constitution will be revised to allow the president to charge the existing government of Iveta Radičová, which was defeated in a confidence vote in parliament on October 11, with governing the country until next year’s elections.

AFTER a period of uncertainty over who would govern the country until the next general election in March 2012, the leaders of the centre-right parties and Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič agreed on a solution on October 20. The constitution will be revised to allow the president to charge the existing government of Iveta Radičová, which was defeated in a confidence vote in parliament on October 11, with governing the country until next year’s elections.

“It is now up to the parliamentary deputies to prepare such a revision,” Gašparovič told the media after his meeting with the leaders of the centre-right parties on October 20. “After the law is passed, I will immediately charge this government with continuing its operation until the elections.”

On the same day, the leader of opposition party Smer, Robert Fico, also proposed revising the country’s constitution as a possible solution to the situation. The government fell after one of the coalition parties, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), refused to back changes to the eurozone’s European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout mechanism.

The agreement between the ruling coalition parties – the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Most-Híd and SaS – and the president also meant that Prime Minister Iveta Radičová would be able to represent Slovakia at an October 23 European Council summit involving eurozone leaders.

The centre-right solution

The party leaders presented the president with an agreement supported by 78 MPs to support an interim government, which could still act even if the plan to revise the constitution were to fail.

Nevertheless, SaS chairman Richard Sulík told the media that the agreement on October 20 came after Fico had a day earlier rejected the idea of revising the constitution, which is why his party was willing to negotiate with the other right-wing parties.

Most-Híd leader Béla Bugár also stressed that the coalition parties had reached agreement without the help of Smer.

Based on the deal, SaS should, following approval of the state budget, be able to push through parliament the abolition of MPs’ immunity from punishment for non-criminal offences and the scrapping of so-called concessionary fees that electricity users pay to fund the public service television and radio broadcasters. Both these were among the subjects of a referendum that SaS launched ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections, but which was ruled invalid due to low turnout. The last condition of SaS was the passage of legislation that would allow the public to enter military forests. The party will also see its nominee Jozef Kollár getting one of parliament’s deputy speaker seats, the SITA newswire reported. Sulík was ejected from his job as speaker soon after the government lost the confidence vote.

KDH chairman Jan Figeľ applauded the fact that his colleagues on the right had committed themselves to supporting the state budget, saying this was positive not only for the stabilisation of the economy and public finances but also for the development of the regions.

SDKÚ leader Mikuláš Dzurinda said that the agreement reached on October 20 was in fact the culmination of efforts he had begun the previous week, when he first met Figeľ, Bugár and Sulík.

“As early as Friday [October 14], when I heard that there was a constitutional problem, it was clear to me that we had to overcome the past and that it was our duty to attempt to reach agreement,” Dzurinda said, adding that such agreement offers Slovakia greater stability.

Fico’s take

After presenting his offer of support for a constitutional amendment, Fico said that revising the country’s fundamental law via a fast-tracked legislative procedure would not testify to the stability and certainty of the parliamentary and constitutional system, but that in the current situation he considered it the best solution.

“The constitution after all has certain legislative holes that must be filled,” Fico said on October 20.

Fico restated that until March 10, his party would not be interested in sharing power and intended to operate until the elections solely as an opposition party.

Radičová goes to eurozone summit

The agreement among the political parties and Gašparovič on who should govern the country in the interim period until the March 2012 elections also provided an answer to a question which had been occupying politicians, analysts and the media since the Radičová government fell: who should represent Slovakia at the eurozone summit in Brussels on October 23?

While the leaders of the coalition parties wanted Radičová to go to the summit, Fico had insisted that the president should represent Slovakia instead. In the end, it was agreed that Radičová would attend the summit, as was planned before the government crisis erupted.

Before agreement was reached, however, Gašparovič repeatedly stated that he was ready to represent Slovakia at the summit himself. He cited the constitution, which says that the president represents the state, and negotiates and ratifies international treaties, with the option to delegate the negotiation of treaties to the cabinet. The cabinet cannot decide who should attend the summit if it does not have the confidence of parliament, Gašparovič said on October 19, the SITA newswire reported.

Gašparovič always uses English-language interpreters in international settings, and there were concerns among observers that he might have trouble representing Slovakia at the closed meeting of eurozone leaders in Brussels.

“There are several prime ministers and presidents who don’t speak English either,” he said, as quoted by SITA.

Radičová asserted that the eurozone negotiations are led exclusively by prime ministers, that their posts are not replaceable and that no other officials are allowed into such meetings.

“The working language is English, and there is the option to use French, German or Spanish, which are translated into English,” she told the Sme daily. “It is always conducted at the level of prime ministers, with the exception of France, whose president fulfils different functions.”

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