THIS week may mark the end of an era. Vladimír Mečiar has been an irrelevant figure since 2010, when his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) failed to make it into parliament. But now he’s gone from the HZDS altogether, leaving behind the meagre remains of the party he founded, ruled and turned into a dominant political force in the 1990s.

Unlike him, former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská is no historical figure. But she is currently the most popular member of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), and her departure from the party, announced the same day as Mečiar’s farewell, may give it its final blow.

The SDKÚ was created to drive the authoritarian, corrupt, and isolationist HZDS from power. It became a leader of the pro-democratic, pro-reform and pro-Western camp, and succeeded in bringing Slovakia into NATO and the EU. The struggle for the country’s place in Europe, which is currently happening in Ukraine, is long over in Slovakia, and all its main protagonists are now definitely leaving the stage.

All, but one - Robert Fico. He has been in parliament since the early 1990s, and for the last decade he has mostly gone from one victory to another. But Smer’s unexpected defeat in Banská Bystrica Region, uncertain results in opinion polls and nervousness about a future without Fico within his own party, are making his decision about a possible bid for the presidency very difficult.

If he decides to run and loses, his image of invincibility will be gone forever. If he runs and wins, Smer will have trouble finding a new leader. And if he stays on as prime minister, he will likely have to struggle with a decline in popularity. Fico has outlived most of his rivals. But a look at the HZDS and SDKÚ shows how easy it is for big parties to disappear.