Double-edged game
By Dag Daniš

Mečiar does not feel good at Fico's side. Even though he won't admit it, he tolerates this coalition rather than supports it. The problem is not in "communication", as Mečiar claims, but in the fact that he is outside the political decision-making mechanism.

Fico insists that policy should not be set by the Coalition Council [a senior government body consisting of the leaders of the three government parties - ed. note] as Mečiar would like, but by the government. Fico has several times rejected Mečiar's call for negotiations, thereby both taking the HZDS party out of the game and angering it.

Fico has apparently chosen this risky political strategy deliberately. Mečiar is increasing his demands and pushing for his people to be installed in positions he has no claim on (the police, the secret service, the transport sector). He is also demanding that Fico agree to political deals even though he has nothing to offer in return - the HZDS has only two ministries, and even there Smer has influence through the deputy minister positions. Out of instinct, Fico is avoiding secret talks at which he would be under the pressure of HZDS demands, and from the beginning has done everything he can to keep Mečiar as far away from the Government Office as possible. Even if it means Mečiar will start to create problems.

While his party is as strong as it is now, Fico can feel easy and secure. Mečiar may threaten to join forces with the right-wing parties, but so far he doesn't have what it takes. For starters, as long as the Christian Democrats remain in crisis, the HZDS + the right wing model is ruled out. For another thing, HZDS voters would have a tough time swallowing it if Mečiar suddenly ran from Fico's side to Dzurinda's. Finally, even if he did decide to do so, he would risk losing half of the members of his caucus.

Following the entry of the HZDS into the government, Mečiar has found himself in an embarrassing situation, dangling between the closer duo of Smer and the SNS along with his party, the weakest player on the team. The problem is that at the side of the KDH, SDKÚ and SMK opposition parties, he would be even more of a third wheel. The only thing Mečiar can do in these circumstances is to try and contain Smer's dominance, and return blows and insults whenever the occasion presents itself, even if it hurts the HZDS as well. Because the indirect outcome of Fico's game is that whenever there is a coalition crisis, Smer will always stand to lose more than the slimmed-down HZDS.

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