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Slovakia: Presidential Elections Are Due

Prague, 9 January 1998 (RFE/RL) - The Speaker of Slovakia's parliament, Ivan Gasparovic, announced yesterday that lawmakers will convene on January 23 to hold the first round of elections for president. He also called on the deputies to submit presidential nominations in writing by Monday (Jan. 12).

But opposition leaders warn that it is quite likely that parliament will be unable to agree on a new president in the first round, or the second round 14 days later or the third round 30 days after that.

So far two candidates, both from the opposition, are in the running although neither has formally registered. The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) is sponsoring academician-agronomist Juraj Hrasko, until 1989 a member of the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) and briefly in 1993 a Slovak Environment Minister. The centrist Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) is backing Stefan Markus, who does not belong to any party, is a science secretary of the Academy of Sciences and chairs the Slovak Helsinki Committee.

Neither candidate appears to have a chance of being elected. The opposition has only 63 of the 150 seats in parliament and to win a candidate must have the support of at least 90 deputies. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's HZDS has 61 seats in the assembly and can block any candidate n-o-t to its liking. Meciar is already on record as saying no one will be elected in the first round and has branded Hrasko and Markus as "unacceptable" candidates.

Neither HZDS nor its two coalition partners intend to nominate anyone in the first round.

The leftist SDL is already exploring a compromise candidate. RFE-RL's Slovak Service reports that SDL leaders met with the populist mayor of Kosice, Rudolf Schuster yesterday in a bid to persuade him to be a candidate.

Schuster, a member of Slovakia's small Carpatho-German minority, was already viewed as a rising star on the political scene in the final years of Communist rule. He served as Speaker of the Slovak Parliament during and after the Velvet Revolution eight years ago.

However, Meciar has already labeled Schuster as unacceptable due to alleged "character faults."

Another possible compromise candidate, Constitutional Court Chief Justice Milan Cic, is quoted in today's edition of the Bratislava daily Narodna obroda as saying everything should be done to enable a president to be elected since, in his words, "not electing a president would also have far-reaching consequences internationally." At this time, the most likely scenario appears to be that once President Michal Kovac's five-year term expires March 2, the country will be without a head of state until after parliamentary elections expected in the Autumn. In the interim, some of the president's functions, including the role of commander and chief, will be handled by Meciar himself.

The timing of the first round does not appear to be by chance. President Kovac is due to be out of town that day hosting a summit of 11 Central European presidents in Levoca in eastern Slovakia. The presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy and Ukraine are due to meet in Levoca January 23 and 24. Kovac has proposed the topic to be dealing with the emergence and maintenance of civic society.

Kovac, whose resignation has been demanded for several years by Meciar's HZDS, is not running for reelection.

Former Prime Minister Jan Carnogursky yesterday ruled out supporting Meciar as a compromise presidential candidate, saying electing him president "would not be a good signal at home or abroad." But Carnogursky added that it is not important who in the end is elected but rather that the elections will be regular. To prevent any attempts at election fraud, he says foreign observers should be invited, a move Meciar has already rejected on the grounds that "Slovakia is not Albania."

Both Carnogursky and SDL leader Jozef Migas say it is unlikely that a president will be elected before autumn parliamentary elections. Carnogursky says he still supports a change in the constitution that would enable the voting public to elect the president.

A referendum question on enabling the president to be elected directly was retracted last May by Meciar's Interior Minister Gustav Krajci just hours before voters were to go to the polls and this despite half a million petition signatures calling for the president to be elected directly.

For its part, Meciar's HZDS claims it wants a president elected soon. HZDS deputy chairman Arpad Matejka warns that if n-o one is elected president the legislative process would be paralyzed since the constitution does not allow for anyone but the president to sign bills into law.

But SDL chief Migas suspects various factors may be involved in HZDS's refusal to nominate a candidate for the first two rounds. He told the Bratislava daily Sme that HZDS may be holding back their candidate on tactical grounds until a later round or he says "it can not be excluded, that HZDS is not interested in a head of state being elected."

Meanwhile, Sme reported today that the rooftop digital clock facing the presidential palace in Bratislava which has been counting down the time Kovac has left in office was switched off yesterday, allegedly by a small group of anonymous citizens wanting to express their dissatisfaction with the current situation.