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Slovakia: Referendum On Election Of President Ruled Constitutional

Kosice/Bratislava, Slovakia; 22 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Slovakia's Constitutional Court yesterday rejected a call by lawmakers of the ruling coalition parties to declare a referendum question on direct presidential elections to be unconstitutional.

The court ruled that changes to the constitution can be made by referendum.

The referendum -- three questions concerning NATO membership and one on direct election of the president -- is due to be held Friday and Saturday.

Within minutes of the court's announcement in Kosice, the official Slovak news agency TASR reported that Interior Minister Gustav Krajci announced he is ordering the distribution of referendum ballots with just three questions concerning NATO membership but ignoring the fourth question on the direct election of the president.

Krajci says ballots with four questions will not be distributed. He interprets the court's ruling as meaning that the fourth question contravenes the 1992 law on referenda and thus he says the fourth question may not appear on the ballot.

The central referendum commission has demanded that all four questions be included on the ballot and has warned that it will not certify ballots containing just three questions.

The government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar opposes the inclusion of the question on direct presidential elections since an independently elected president would in all likelihood be independently minded. If parliament is left to vote on a new president when Michal Kovac's term expires in March, it is unlikely any candidadate will win a majority. Meciar would then assume presidential powers until parliamentary elections later in 1998, a move feared by the opposition as potentially leading to a dictatorship.

Despite the court ruling, legal experts in Slovakia say it remains unclear whether the outcome of the referendum will be legally binding and just how the constitution will be changed to conform to the referendum's outcome since it currently provides for the president to be elected by parliament.

Our correspondents in Bratislava say the result of the decisions by the court and the interior minister is uncertainty and confusion on several levels, within the electoral commission, in the news media and in local administration in how to respond to the conflicting views.

The final result of the confusion may well be low voter turn-out which will be interpreted as a victory for Meciar's party and a defeat for the opposition.