FORMER justice minister and failed party chair candidate Lucia Žitňanská, one-time state secretary Miroslav Beblavý and Magdaléna Vášáryová, formerly ambassador to Austria, have all quit the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) on December 12. While the party was once the pre-eminent force on the centre-right, its 11 member parliamentary deputy faction has now dropped to just eight MPs.

Though the departure of the three prominent SDKÚ members was greatly overshadowed by the announcement of the presidential candidacy of Prime Minister Robert Fico, the developments will further contribute to an already fragmented political right, say observers. SDKÚ Chairman Pavol Frešo insists the party is strong enough to go on.

The departures are particularly damaging to SDKÚ as people who symbolised reforms in the party are now leaving, Institute for Public Affairs President Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

Žitňanská, who also chaired the SDKÚ deputy faction, explained that she was leaving due to “the recent vagueness of attitudes of the SDKÚ, the loss of content and the inability to make political decisions”. Žitňanská, according to media, referred to the SDKÚ regional branch’s approach to the election in Banská Bystrica region.

After the party’s nominee, Ľudovít Kaník, lost to far-right extremist Marian Kotleba, the party refused to endorse the winner of the first round, Smer’s Vladimír Maňka, who then lost to Kotleba in the second round.

The departed MPs also panned party chairman Pavol Frešo for accepting the membership application of lawyer Dušan Repák who as a lawyer defended controversial tycoon Jozef Majský, best known from a case involving embezzlement in the non-banking financial companies BMG Invest and Horizont, or representing deputies of the now non-parliamentary Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in Constitutional Court proceedings when the one-time party of Vladimír Mečiar attempted to abolish the Special Court, designed to deal with organised crime. Repák has since left the party.

When responding to the departures Frešo said that his last discussion with Žitňanská was about how to advance the SDKÚ and they failed to agree. Frešo argued that voters want those on the political right to cooperate and that such departures represent a failure to listen to voters, the SITA newswire reported.

“We are obliged to prove that we are able to do it,” Frešo said.

During the spring, Žitňanská and Beblavý started a political project, entitled We Are Creating Slovakia, which they described as a series of discussions outside the party base hoping to find people whose potential is not currently being utilised. While at that time they were quick to stress that they do not intend to establish a new party, their initiative prompted questions about what might come next.

“Their departure was not an expression of infighting unlike what happened in 2003 when a group around Ivan Šimko left the party,” Mesežnikov said, adding that “they have left due to dissatisfaction and it will weaken the already weak party”.

Mesežnikov noted that Žitňanská was the face of reforms in the area of the rule of law while Beblavý, a former state secretary of the Labour Ministry, contributed to discussions on social-economic reforms.

“Now the party is getting transformed into a party that no longer features all the issues that are important for this country,” Mesežnikov said.

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý suggested that certain disintegration started within the party already after the fall of the Iveta Radičová government, which to a certain degree was caused by the leadership of the party itself.

“Radičová found herself in a not enviable situation when not only part of the ruling coalition failed to support her but she lacked support also from her own party,” he said.

According to Kusý, the party has never drawn serious consequences from the 2012 election debacle and thus the gradual disintegration of the party continues.

Radičová, the most popular figure of the right wing, delivered her letter of resignation to the SDKÚ in May 2012, just two weeks before a crucial party congress. She had long pledged to leave politics after the fall of her centre-right government in October 2011.

Observers suggested that behind the election failure of the SDKÚ, once the pre-eminent force on the centre-right, was its failure to respond to the discourse around the Gorilla file, and that its election campaign messages completely failed to match what was in fact the major topic of public debate.

Pressure mounted on former SDKÚ chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda in the weeks before the election to withdraw from the top spot on the SDKÚ candidate list, which allowed Žitňanská to announce that she would seek the chairmanship after the elections, providing she received enough preferential votes. She ultimately received 103,517 preferential votes, almost four times more than Dzurinda’s 27,242. Nevertheless, Frešo, who also serves as president of the Bratislava Self-Governing Region, won the vote in May. The party has since then been racked by internal disagreements over its future direction.

What next?

The MPs who left the party do not as yet plan to join any other party, with Žitňanská explaining that she needs time to decide on her next move. She also excluded the option of establishing a new party.

Mesežnikov does not assume that the renegades would join, for example, Daniel Lipšic’s NOVA party. He said no matter the direction they go, any new group they join must have a consistent program. He does not believe this to be the case with NOVA.

“There are conservatives and liberals there, and I do not know whether it is good to avoid taking joint stands. This might be a problem for the SDKÚ renegades,” he said.

Kusý assumes that further members might quit the SDKÚ suggesting that “people who have some political ambitions feel that they cannot fulfil these within the SDKÚ. They will look for opportunities elsewhere”. He sees SDKÚ’s future prospects as bleak.

“There is no one who would be dragging the party, personalities who would be giving a kind of scale to the party in the future,” he said.

According to Kusý, fragmentation of right wing parties is likely to continue. Both KDH and the SDKÚ have been unable to gain their footing since their 2012 election failure, he said.

Michaela Terenzani and Radka Minarechová contributed to this report