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Slovakia Vote May Change Leadership

September 26, 1998

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) _ Opposition leaders celebrated the exit poll results Saturday from national elections _ even scheduling talks to begin building a coalition to replace Slovakia’s autocratic government.

Actual results, however, weren’t expected until Sunday, and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar’s ruling party wasn’t ready to concede defeat.

``We are going to win in spite of all the polls,″ party vice-chairman Sergej Kozlik said. Even a ``win″ doesn’t mean the party will rule, but whichever one tops the list of 17 competing for seats has the first formal chance to try to put together a leadership coalition.

Meciar and his nationalist party have ruled largely uninterrupted and unchallenged since the country became independent from the former Czechoslovakia in January 1993. If opposition forces prevail, striking change could lie ahead for a nation shunned by Western governments and investors for its heavy-handed practices.

Two series of exit polls, one sponsored by pro-government forces and the other by opposition supporters, seemed to bear out what analysts had predicted: Meciar’s nationalist Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has little chance to form a strong enough coalition to stay in power.

Exit polls, based on interviews with voters as they leave polling stations, are not always reliable reflections of ballots cast. But if conducted properly, they can give a strong indication of the outcome.

Despite pre-election fears of ballot fraud, international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the two-day vote seemed to have gone smoothly.

The headquarters of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition erupted in wild cheering and applause when the exit poll results were announced on television. Party leaders scheduled formal coalition talks for Sunday with three other opposition parties.

``The opposition is going to get a majority of support in Parliament,″ declared Mikulas Dzurinda, whose Slovak Democratic Coalition led the polls’ strong opposition showing.

``This is a vote for new hope and for a new beginning for Slovakia,″ said Dzurinda, who stands to be prime minister if a united opposition wins more than 50 percent of the 150 Parliament seats up for grabs Friday and Saturday.

Both sets of exit polls showed six parties clearing the 5 percent threshold required to gain seats. And both showed that the four opposition groups that have pledged to join forces to oust Meciar easily had the support of more than half the 28,000 voters jointly surveyed. Pollsters for each said their margin of error was 3 percentage points.

The MVK polling agency, in a survey of 20,000 voters sponsored by pro-opposition TV Markiza, showed the Slovak Democratic Coalition beating the ruling party 30 percent to 22 percent, winning in all regions of Slovakia. Combined, MVK gave the opposition 64 percent; Meciar and his party’s sole likely ally, the far-right Slovak National Party, controlled 30 percent.

MVK exit polls accurately reflected the outcome of the last election, won by Meciar’s party in 1994.

Even the poll of 8,000 voters sponsored by state television, which Meciar controls, showed his party with just 26 percent support to 24 percent for the Slovak Democratic Coalition. That poll indicated Meciar and the Slovak National Party could count on 36 percent, compared to 56 percent for combined opposition forces.

Separate samplings from MVK, based on preliminary vote counts from 300 of 500 precincts, showed the Slovak Democratic Coalition at 26 percent and Meciar’s party at 25 percent. That sampling gave the opposition as a whole 60 percent and Meciar and his backers 34 percent.

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