Bratislava, 3 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The government of Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar lost no time in exercising its new presidential powers today, dismissing nearly half the country's overseas ambassadors and annulling an April referendum on NATO membership and presidential elections. Slovak President Michal Kovac stepped down yesterday, at the end of his five-year term, with parliament unable to agree on a successor. Most of Kovac's powers were automatically transferred to Meciar, who for years was Kovac's bitter rival.
Meciar spokesman Jozef Kroslak said 28 ambassadors, who had been appointed by President Kovac, were relieved of their duties. In addition, Kroslak said the cabinet decided not to publish a presidential decree announcing the re-running of a referendum on NATO membership and the direct popular election of the president. The referendum had been scheduled for April 19, but failure to publish the presidential decree in the official government bulletin means the order is void.
Opposition party leaders have criticized the government's latest moves. The deputy chairman of the Christian Democrats, Vladimir Palko, called them a "display of tyranny." The deputy chairman of the Democratic Union, Ludovit Cernak, said fears the government would abuse the presidential powers have come true.
In a symbolic gesture, today's cabinet decisions were announced from the presidential palace, where Meciar and his ministers held their session, instead of in the office of the government.
Meciar's spokesman explained the change of venue by saying the cabinet will from now on meet at the presidential palace when it is discussing matters previously under the authority of the head of state.