Vol 2, No 3
24 January 2000
S L O V A K I A:
Reshuffling the Deck
Michael J Kopanic Jr
Slovakia's prime minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, has been toying with the idea of a new party since this past summer. A series of secret meetings led to rumors that something was afoot. Last week put an end to the speculation. On 17 January 2000, Dzurinda announced that he would be setting up a new political party: the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU). When the new organization will be established is not yet clear.
Over the past half a year, Dzurinda encountered numerous hurdles in trying to maintain his loosely aligned Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). The only glue that has stuck the wide-ranging political coalition together has been a fear of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar returning to power and a general wish to move closer to EU membership. The coalition formed in 1998 in order to get around election laws, which were specially designed to keep Mečiar's coalition in power. The SDK linked three right-wing parties and two left-wing parties as common bedfellows: the Christian Democratic Movement, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Union on the right; and the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party on the other end of the spectrum. Together with three other parties - the Party of Civic Understanding, the Party of the Democratic Left and the Hungarian Coalition - a viable government ensued. All parties received rewards in the form of ministerial posts within the government formed in October 1998. All have supported some of the constitutional reforms, such as direct presidential elections. But the lack of a common vision beyond anti-Mečiarism has always plagued the SDK.
When the Christian Democrats announced in the summer that they would bow out of the coalition yet still support it, Dzurinda was faced with a desertion within his own party. First, he vowed to stay in his own party and preserve the SDK, even though he knew that the SDK was quickly becoming a fictional pipedream. Sensing that he lacked influence within his own Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Dzurinda explored other political choices. By opting for a new party, he has more or less given up on any hope of SDK's future.
Dzurinda's move adds to the confusion and uncertainty of the political landscape in Slovakia at a time when Slovakia is trying to leapfrog its way into the first group of European Union candidates from Central Europe. After obtaining his much sought-after goal of participation in EU entry talks this past December, Dzurinda knows that accelerating EU's embrace of Slovakia depends upon domestic political stability and reform.
Whether another new party will bring this much sought-after stability remains to be seen. It is possible that Dzurinda is trying to distance himself more from the Christian Democrats as news of another financial scandal over contributions made by the firm Siemens to KDH officials has come to light over the past month.
To date, Dzurinda has not announced that his new party has any particular political program. He has only stated that it will "follow SDK ideas," which is not something clearly delineated anyway. Only 11 leaders joined in following his declaration of intent, and six of those names were ministers in the government. Thus far, the Democratic Party has declined to back the idea of a new party. The move has further splintered the Christian Democrats. Only three KDH members have pledged to back the new party, with another three expected to sign on later.
Milan Žitný of Radio Free Europe's Slovak Service believes that Dzurinda's name alone will garner the new party about 15 percent of the vote; but that is hardly enough to win an election or form another government. In the meantime, KDH leader Ján Čarnogurský says he will continue to support the current government. The lack of any viable alternatives provides him with little choice.
Former Prime Minister Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) are now pressing for new elections to be held as early as autumn of this year. Basing these demands on a petition that circulated this summer, the opposition is trying to capitalize on the widespread disenchantment with current economic conditions, as the current government's reforms increasingly acquire the taste of castor oil.
Recent statistics show that unemployment leapt from 17.73 percent in October to 19.18 percent in December. While industrial production took a slightly positive turn (0.7 percent in November) after negative growth earlier in the year, the creation of new jobs remains elusive (Reuters, 20 January 2000). Increasing apathy among the population could prove to be Dzurinda's undoing in the next elections if things do not begin to improve this year.
What Slovakia lacks is a clearer vision of its future and, perhaps even more importantly, a leader who can communicate that vision to the general population. Although Dzurinda can wheel and deal and form a new party, he will only be pampering to those who already support him and won't be making any new friends. His ultimate political success depends upon his reaching out to the average Slovak citizen rather than reshuffling the deck of cards he already holds. This would encourage more politicians to join his political pow wow. Whether he is capable of such leadership remains to be seen.
Michael J Kopanic Jr, 22 January 2000
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