What you see is all you get

PARTY candidate lists for parliamentary elections have the power to turn seemingly indivisible allies into archenemies, critics into political bootlickers, and the most loyal defenders of party lines into agile critics of one and the same party.

PARTY candidate lists for parliamentary elections have the power to turn seemingly indivisible allies into archenemies, critics into political bootlickers, and the most loyal defenders of party lines into agile critics of one and the same party.

One of the best demonstrations of the power of candidate lists and the political metamorphosis these lists can trigger when someone who hopes to appear on them is omitted is the story of President Ivan Gašparovič.

During the 1990s, Gašparovič was a staunch ally of Vladimír Mečiar, the three-time prime minister and boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). As the party's second most popular man, Gašparovič helped defend policies repugnant to international forums until the moment Mečiar unexpectedly omitted him from the HZDS candidates list for the 2002 parliamentary elections.

Instead, Mečiar offered Gašparovič a chance to run for a seat in the European Parliament.

"That's almost like offering someone here an opportunity to run for a position in the United States Congress," Gašparovič said in reaction to the proposed compensation.

Gašparovič, who served as speaker of parliament under Mečiar's governments, called the July 2002 nomination congress a farce, quit the HZDS and established his own party. The man who was dropped from the candidates list (and never forgot it) went on to defeat his former boss in the 2004 presidential elections.

Party candidate lists deserve attention because they often reveal more about the parties themselves than the programmes they claim to stand for.

Nomination congresses are a stressful time for many who hope to secure four more years in the seat of Slovak democracy.

For example, the recently published candidates list of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), which fields a mix of old and new faces, including 5 women in the top 20 places, dashed the hopes of former Labour Minister Ľudovít Kaník of hanging on to a seat in parliament after June 2006.

Kaník, who resigned over corruption suspicions in 2005, had certainly expected more gratitude from the SDKÚ for prodding his petite Democratic Party into fusing with the SDKÚ. But the risks of fielding a disgraced minister who was disliked by the media apparently convinced the SDKÚ to dump him, in the spirit not so much of what-have-you-done-for-us-lately, but of how-much-could-you-hurt-us-later.

Compared to the Christian Democratic Movement's (KDH) partisan list, which offers known and "safe" faces like leader Pavol Hrušovský, Vladimír Palko and Daniel Lipšic, all of whom are firmly associated with the party's conservative policies, the SDKÚ's line-up is decidedly experimental.

The trio of Dzurinda, Ivan Mikloš and Eduard Kukan is now supported by 5 women, including current Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská, Labour Minister Iveta Radičová, Deputy Foreign Minister Magda Vášáryová, advisor to the prime minister Tatiana Rosová, and SDKÚ functionary Katarína Cibulková, all of whom are listed in the 20 top spots.

Just days before Dzurinda published his candidates list, the European Commission published a report on gender equality in its member states suggesting that women earn 25 percent less than men in several EU countries, Slovakia among them. The representation of Slovak women in politics has also traditionally been low.

While the SDKÚ turned its back at the last minute on celebrity lawyer Ernest Valko, among the newcomers on its list is international football referee Ľuboš Michel, a brilliant stratagem to balance female voters with couch-potato football fans.

The HZDS, on the other hand, may remain true to its penchant for trying to convince celebrities and business people to run for the party. Speculation is widespread that Mečiar may lure admirer and rock singer Jozef Ráž to run for the party.

But not even Ráž, who achieved stardom with the band Elán, has the power to turn Mečiar's 20 percent election dream into reality.

In its efforts to court the nationalist vote, the HZDS could feature Víťazoslav Móric and Jozef Prokeš, both former members of the Slovak National Party, on its candidates list.

Pavol Rusko recently announced that a woman would lead his New Citizens Alliance (ANO) candidates list. While Eva Černá has never concealed her ambition to lead the party into elections, her appreciation for the gesture may be muted, given ANO dismal prospects.

The Free Forum will also be led into elections by a woman, with the difference being that leader Zuzana Martináková has proven on several occasions that she can play as rough as need be. She may soon be put to the task: The Free Forum has promised places on its candidates list to three tiny parties (the Democratic Union, the Green Party and the Democratic Party of Slovakia), but with an election result of probably around 6 percent, Martináková is going to have to lay down the law about who actually gets seats in parliament.

Opposition Smer boss Robert Fico made no secret of the fact that loyalty was the main factor he considered when designing the party's candidates list. Fico had himself in top spot, along with the personable Robert Kaliňák and MEP Monika Beňová, whose ambitions reach at least to the foreign minister's post.

In all of these lists there is very little innovation and risk-taking, and one gets the sense that few parties used their lists to address their own shortcomings. One would have expected that Fico, for example, might have tried to answer the permanent criticism that his party is appallingly short of experts if it means to run the state.

For Slovak voters, what they see in these lists is definitely what they get. If only it weren't all they get.

By Beata Balogová

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