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MODERATE INCUMBENT FACES OFF AGAINST RIGHTIST OPPONENT, OBSERVERS SAY PARTY LINE WON'T SWAY

Leadership fight grips Christian Dems

PAVOL Hrušovský, the moderate Christian Democrat who says that politics should be the realm of confident and capable people, and Vladimír Palko, who wants the Christian Democrats to be more conservative and says that "Ján Slota cannot remain Slovakia's only patriot," are competing for the leadership of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

PAVOL Hrušovský, the moderate Christian Democrat who says that politics should be the realm of confident and capable people, and Vladimír Palko, who wants the Christian Democrats to be more conservative and says that "Ján Slota cannot remain Slovakia's only patriot," are competing for the leadership of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). The party's congress was scheduled for June 16 and the election results were not available at the time The Slovak Spectator went to print. However, political analysts say that the nature of KDH voters and traditions have defined the party in such a way that no major deviations from the current party line can be expected.

"If Palko wins, the KDH will stress national values more," Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank, told The Slovak Spectator. "The party would reject certain aspects of the European Union more resolutely and would push for Slovak interests in a more radical way."

Hrušovský is a more moderate and pragmatic politician, Mesežnikov said, adding that he does not expect any major changes in the party regardless of who wins.

Although Mesežnikov said it was rather difficult to guess who the winner will be, he said he thinks Hrušovský's position is stronger.

"I cannot say with certainty that it will stay so during the congress, however," he said. "Palko is a serious rival. He offers certain possibilities and has generated support among the ranks of the KDH."

Political analyst Ján Baránek, however, said that Hrušovský would most likely be re-elected.

Palko (centre) is challenging incumbent Hrušovský in the race for the KDH's top post, but Fronc (right) is the most popular.
photo: TASR

"The atmosphere in the KDH is inclined towards Hrušovský," Baránek told The Slovak Spectator. "I would say that Palko's metamorphosis into an obliging politician has not been successful."

A poll carried out by the Polis agency on a sample of 933 respondents also turned out in the favour of Hrušovský as 35 percent of those polled wish to see him re-elected, while 28 percent would prefer Palko to be the new chairman. However, the largest group of respondents - 37 percent - said they could not answer the question. When asked who has been a greater asset for the KDH, 32 percent voted for Daniel Lipšic, 24 percent said it was Hrušovský and 16 percent voted for Palko, who was even beaten by Ján Figeľ, who is currently serving on the European Commission.

A meeting of the KDH's national council on June 9-10 has not brought much clarity to the situation.

On the one hand, the board nominated Hrušovský to run for the top post, backed by 65 delegates, while only 27 candidates supported Palko's candidacy.

But on the other hand, the party member with most support was not Hrušovský, but the current vice-chairman for foreign affairs, Martin Fronc, who is again running for the post of vice-chairman and received the support of 80 delegates.

The nominees for the other vice-chairmen posts, Lipšic, Anna Záborská and Milan Krajniak, who support Palko, suffered a defeat. The biggest surprise, observers said, was Lipšic, who gained only 46 votes and thus could not be nominated for the post of vice-chairman.

KDH member Peter Gabura told the Sme daily that the results of the council's vote convinced him that Fronc was the most popular politician in the KDH, and thus he would be the best chairman. However, not all agree.

"This is Gabura's blind guess," said Baránek. "The popularity of a chairman cannot be assessed by the votes of the national board, as it is not the whole KDH. I see Gabura's statement as an effort to further shuffle the cards. The fact is that no-one can say precisely who has what support in the KDH."

Baránek is rather sceptical about Fronc's eventual candidacy, as his popularity suffered some blows when he was education minister in Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet.

"Fronc is a capable politician," said Baránek. "But he does not have a very good reputation. He has done some clumsy things in the past. The media in particular have given him a negative image, such as when he tried to introduce tuition fees for colleges. Virtually all the media were against him."

It was then that Fronc was painted as "an executor, calling for the mass execution of poor students," Baránek said. Fronc would not be a good choice only one year after [the parliamentary] elections, he added.

Palko said he does not expect to be defeated at the congress even after the KDH council vote failed to turn out favourably for him.

"The council is different from the congress," Palko told The Slovak Spectator. "Moreover, the KDH council is still disappointed that the party is not part of the ruling coalition. I estimate that out of 300 delegates, at least one fourth has still not decided who to vote for."

However, Baránek said that in the KDH, there are still concerns that the popularity of the KDH might further drop if Palko was leading the party.

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