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Slovakia's Center, Right Parties Sign Four-Party Coalition Agreement - 2002-10-08

Politicians from center and rightist parties in Slovakia Tuesday signed an agreement to form a four-party coalition that they hope will lead Slovakia to membership in Nato and the European Union. The center-right won a stunning victory in the September 15 parliamentary election.

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda says the new coalition intends to lead Slovakia into the unified Europe. Mr. Dzurinda will retain his post but some of the new coalition parties were not part of his previous government. The coalition controls 78 of parliament's 150 seats.

The largest party in Slovakia is still the populist group led by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. However his party's representation in parliament is much reduced from what was achieved in the 1998 election.

At the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Slovak analyst Sharon Fisher said Tuesday that the election is a vote of confidence, not only in Mr. Dzurinda but in the pro-west, pro-free market policies he champions. Western powers had made clear that if Slovakia turned again to the authoritarian Mr. Meciar the country would continue to be shunned by NATO and the European Union. Ms. Fisher, an economist with DRI Research, believes the center-right coalition is likely to last for a full four-year term. "If they manage to do a good job and manage somehow to get the support of the population because they've done something positive for the country then I think there is no threat of those populist and nationalist parties coming back," she said.

Ms. Fisher says the Slovak economy is expanding at a brisk pace. The main issues confronting the new government, she says, are reducing unemployment, combating corruption and safeguarding the rights of minorities, particularly gypsies. The party of the Hungarian minority is part of the governing coalition.

Ms. Fisher also looks to a gradual improvement in the cool Slovak relations with neighboring Austria. "I keep waiting for the Austrians to recognize that they could build some kind of stronger ties with Slovakia, and especially this Vienna-Bratislava cooperation," said Sharon Fisher. "And eventually it is going to happen."

The two capitals, Vienna and Bratislava, are only 80 kilometers apart along the Danube river.