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Slovakia rushes through ‘immensely populist’ proposals a few days before elections

Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovak lawmakers are expected to convene today in an extraordinary session of parliament called by Speaker Andrej Danko last Wednesday. The legislative body, known as the National Council, will aim to adopt four government proposals ushered in by the executive the previous week.

With the 29 February general election in close sight, ruling Smer-SD party and its coalition partners from the Slovak National Party (SNS) are racing against the clock to scrap highway tolls for private cars, double the level of child benefits, introduce extra pension payments and definitely bury the Istanbul Convention, a non-binding Council of Europe treaty combating violence against women and domestic abuse. The changes would come into effect in January next year.

Granting special status to the assembly could see legislators passing a number of new laws in a single day. Typically, the rule-making process takes several months of exhaustive deliberation before legislation sees the light of day.

Garnering support and criticism

While Most-Híd, the third and final governing party, pulled out of the joint proposal citing budgetary irresponsibility and a coalition agreement from past December that put off all new laws until after the elections, Danko said at least fifty of the Council’s 150 MPs were ready to support the special parliamentary session.

The government needs a qualified majority of 76 votes to “open” the extraordinary session. Smer and SNS are reportedly counting on the backing of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS), an extremist far-right group that many experts dub as “proto-fascist”. Populist faction We Are Family (Sme Rodina) are yet to rule out a yes vote as well. A few independent MPs might also chip in with their thumbs up.

In the shadow of the looming election, opposition parties were quick to denounce the rashly arranged measures as “corruption, whopper, and pre-election fever”.

Other political rivals followed suit, concurrently filing criminal complaints against several members of the executive. The accusations ranged from abuse of power to breaching the ratified government expenditure ceiling. Analysts estimate the proposals to set the state budget back more than €800 million.

Adopting these measures “would be a complete sham”, said Miroslav Beblavy, one of the complainants and member of Progressive Slovakia-Together, the extra-parliamentary coalition that came out on top in last year’s EU elections. “We would end up having a worse state of public finances than Greece. [We would be] the worst in the EU”, he added.

Misguided and too expensive

In a self-assured response, National Council Speaker Danko said he was not fazed by the opposition’s incursions. “I have information that our financial resources are ready, so I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong”. The SNS leader rose to his political counterparts’ bait, claiming the opposition has filed so many criminal complaints in the past four years, that in any “normal country” they would have already been prosecuted for false accusations.

Smer chief and former Prime Minister Robert Fico joined Danko in explaining the rationale behind the haste and subject matter of the proposed amendments. He expressed concerns over the “social rights” of Slovaks, maintaining they were not guaranteed come a brand new government. “All this was provoked by the opposition and the media”, he stated.

The government has since faced a barrage of criticism from all directions. Political scientist Grigorij Meseznikov labelled the proposals “a populist move” and a “desperate attempt” to coax SMER voters. The way the government had sanctioned these measures and the sped-up parliamentary session are spoiling illusions of following any rules of good governance, said Viktor Novysedlak, executive director of the Council for Budgetary Responsibility.

Most economists seem to agree that the idea is simply too expensive and misguided. “It is a textbook example of immense populism. But in a banana republic, this is standard procedure”, summed up for the daily Dennik N Ludovit Odor, vice-governor of the National Bank of Slovakia.

The mighty veto

Even if Smer and SNS manage to muster enough votes to initiate the special session and push through all four proposals, it is highly unlikely they will be made into law before the 29 February elections.

As Slovak constitutional custom goes, President Zuzana Caputova will have to put pen to paper in order for the measures to become legally binding. Caputova has the right to veto the proposals and return them to parliament for further discussion.

And though the parliament has the right to overrule the president and break through her dismissal, she will still have fifteen days to consider her stance. The clock starts ticking when she receives a note from Parliament. If she takes her time and rides out the full 15-day period at her discretion, she will not have to respond before March 4 and the election deadline will not be met.

In turn, the freshly elected parliament will not be able to vote on these proposals, save for the MPs deciding to re-introduce them again, told Dennik N constitutional law expert Jan Mazak.

The presidential office so far refused to comment on Caputova’s intentions. But Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini declared he was convinced the president will have no reason not to sign any of the amendments.

That said, some lawyers assert that by forcing a special parliamentary session, the government is in blatant breach of procedural rules. A sped-up, extraordinary session can only be called in cases of emergency, such as an imminent threat to human rights or at the risk of major economic losses, said constitutional lawyer Marian Giba in an interview with economic magazine Trend. “In this instance, there are no such reasons”, he added.

Main photo credit: Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty

Written by Edward Szekeres

Edward is a freelance reporter from Slovakia with Hungarian heritage. He is currently based in Belgium and the Netherlands where he is completing his international journalism studies. He is a regular contributor to several platforms delivering news and analyses in English from V4 countries and a thick-skinned fan of sport clubs that only keep on losing.

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.

1 comment on “Slovakia rushes through ‘immensely populist’ proposals a few days before elections

  1. Pingback: Forbidden polls, Facebook and badges: Civil defiance transforms Slovakia’s election campaign – Kafkadesk

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