TWO-TIME prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and his right-hand man Ivan Mikloš are leaving the party they founded more than a decade ago. Dzurinda, who defeated the controversial prime minister Vladimír Mečiar in 1998, and Mikloš, who introduced the internationally acclaimed 19-percent flat tax, are quitting the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) due to what they call the failure of the new leadership to rejuvenate what was once the country’s strongest right-wing party.

They also cited dissatisfaction with the course the party has taken since 2012, when Pavol Frešo took over from Dzurinda.

“We no longer want to carry responsibility for this development,” said Mikloš, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

They are not ready to depart from politics yet: they will stay in parliament and possibly also in the SDKÚ deputy caucus, as their departure would lead to the caucus’ dissolution, since it must have at least six members.

“What is the end in politics?” Dzurinda responded to journalists’ questions of whether he is about to wrap up his political career. “I feel good. I enjoy politics. The issue of the end [of my career] in politics did not occur to me.”

Nevertheless, Dzurinda and Mikloš denied any ambitions to enter an existing party or to establish a new one.

“Their political career, which since 1999 has been firmly linked to the SDKÚ, is coming to its end in this form,” Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) President Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, attributing their departure to different factors.
For example, Dzurinda has been appointed as head of the centre-right think-tank, the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, where he is fully engaged, said Mesežnikov.

In a release they distributed to journalists on June 4, Dzurinda and Mikloš noted that the SDKÚ had played a decisive role in helping Slovakia complete its integration ambitions and performed as a leader of reforms in several spheres of society. But no longer, they say, adding that after its election failure in 2012, the party collected only slightly more than 6 percent and the leadership changed.

“Today, after two years and several elections, it seems that this ambition remains unfulfilled,” Dzurinda and Mikloš wrote in their release, adding that recently the media reported on internal conflicts within the party along with possible leadership changes.

The SDKÚ fathers said they intentionally avoided joining these debates so that the leadership has enough room to fulfill its vision. However, their decision came as a surprise even to some SDKÚ members.

“We had not known about it,” said SDKÚ Deputy Chairman Ivan Štefanec, as quoted by SITA, adding that he had no information or signs that would have hinted at such a decision.
Chairman Pavel Frešo responded that at a human level he understands Dzurinda and Mikloš, arguing that in the party a whole generation of politicians is changing, adding that “it seems that such a departure is part of it. We want to offer new faces and reconcile with the past”. While admitting that the two departing SDKÚ members have done some good work for Slovakia, “their era is over”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Robert Fico said he considers his predecessor Dzurinda a “capable politician”.

“Despite the fact that I am a politician from a completely different camp than Mr Dzurinda and we have completely differing opinions over a number of things, despite all this, we are able to communicate normally as two humans,” said Fico, as quoted by SITA, adding that it is rather rare that two strong political opponents are able to shake hands and speak normally.

Fico also used the occasion to comment that the right wing continues to be fragmented, while his party is stable.

Last December, one-time justice minister Lucia Žitňanská quit the party along with Miroslav Beblavý and Magdaléna Vášáryová. Since then, Žitňanská has become a member of Béla Bugár's Most-Híd party, while Beblavý joined Radoslav Procházka’s newly established Sieť party. Another prominent member of the party, former prime minister Iveta Radičová, left the SDKÚ back in 2011 shortly after she saw her government collapse. When asked about the departure of Dzurinda and Mikloš, she said that she already expressed her attitude towards the party’s politics in 2011, suggesting that the SDKÚ has unfortunately been self-involved for far too long, SITA reported.

Štefanec admitted that every departure weakens the party, but “we have to get over it and walk on”. Another deputy chairman, Martin Fedor, who a week ago also intended to give up his post, refused to comment on the developments.

As for the impact of the departure on the party, Mesežnikov suggested that after the last parliamentary elections none of these politicians have been engaged much with the SDKÚ.
“If they would have left four or five years ago, it would have had quite a serious impact on the SDKÚ,” Mesežnikov said.

According to Mesežnikov, the departure is unpleasant because it deepens the perception of the party as being torn by internal struggles.

When it came to the issue of the future of the SDKÚ club, Dzurinda said he does not want to do harm, and thus they are open to discuss with the leadership about what might come next.

Mesežnikov suggested that the loss of the deputy club would be grave for the party, as it could no longer fully participate in parliamentary work. Thus, if Dzurinda and Mikloš agree to remain members of the deputy faction, it would slightly “neutralise the possibly negative impact of their departure”.

Neither Mikloš nor Dzurinda plan to run in the 2016 parliamentary elections, with Mesežnikov saying he cannot really imagine either of them applying for membership in any other party.

As of the impact on the right wing, Mesežnikov said that the recent developments have shown how fragmented the right wing is: “seven, eight parties are really too much”. He also suggested that the right-wing must solve a number of important issues, rather than regret the departure of the two politicians.

However, Dzurinda was a capable political leader and Mikloš was able to form the basic postulates of economic policies, Mesežnikov noted suggesting that this experience could be of use if there is any interest out there.

The SDKÚ, which over the past decade was considered the leading party on the right, saw its support plunge to 6.09 percent in the March 10, 2012, general election, barely above the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament. Dzurinda, who had been politically active for 21 years and served as prime minister between 1998 and 2006, took full responsibility for his party’s dismal results in the vote and announced that he would not seek re-election to the chairmanship or any other leading position in the party.

Observers agreed that the SDKÚ completely failed to respond to the discourse around the Gorilla file, a lengthy document that purports to describe an operation conducted by the Slovak Information Service (SIS), the country’s main intelligence agency, which collected information about the influence of the Penta financial group on senior Slovak politicians between 2005 and 2006 under the second government of Dzurinda. The file emerged via Slovak media outlets and became the single most resonant issue in Slovakia’s pre-election discourse in 2012. Gorilla spilled from newspapers, talk shows and discussion threads onto social networking sites and into the streets.

Pressure mounted on Dzurinda in the weeks before the election to withdraw from the top spot on the SDKÚ candidate list, which allowed Lucia 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, Pavol Frešo, the president of the Bratislava Self-Governing Region, won the vote in May. The party now appears racked by internal disagreements over its future direction.