Slovak cabinet to resign today

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SLOVAKIA'S political crisis is set to intensify today when ministers are expected to resign en masse after the ousting of Vladimir Meciar, the Prime Minister, in a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The resignations, which will be tendered before agreement has been reached on a new government, were announced by Mr Meciar over the weekend. In a characteristic fit of rage Mr Meciar said that it was now up to President Michal Kovac to assume responsibility for the running of the country and to face the consequences of his part in ensuring the government's downfall.

President Kovac's increasingly direct criticism of Mr Meciar, a former boxer, was an important factor in Friday's parliamentary vote in which MPs approved the no-confidence motion by a margin of 78-2 with 70 abstentions. Mr Kovac described the Prime Minister as immoral, corrupt, illegitimate and a destabilising influence. Numerous other senior figures in Mr Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), including several ministers, have deserted the party, complaining of Mr Meciar's increasingly autocratic methods.

Leaders of Slovakia's main opposition parties held meetings over the weekend aimed at forging a transitional government prior to the general election, expected this year. In addition to the defectors from Mr Meciar's HZDS, the main parties in the new coalition are expected to be the reformed Communist Party of the Democratic Left, the Christian Democrats and possibly the two parties representing the ethnic Hungarian minority.

While the immediate future of the country looks uncertain, many Slovaks hope that the ousting of Mr Meciar will strengthen democracy and usher in a period of stability.

'The fact that so many of his own colleagues turned against him certainly reflected badly on Mr Meciar,' said Sona Szomolanyi, director of Bratislava's Institute for Central European Studies. 'His rather arrogant style of government damaged our reputation abroad. To some extent, things can only improve.'

Many Slovaks also blame Mr Meciar for the country's worsening economic situation since the split from the former Czechoslovakia last year.

Reports of Mr Meciar's political demise may, however, prove exaggerated. Once before, in April 1991, he was ousted only to return after his party scored a resounding win in elections.