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EDITORIAL

Dual party membership: Just do your jobs, guys

Every time a new monthly parliamentary session is convened, ruling coalition MPs seem to have two things on their mind - passing a few EU-friendly laws, and knotting the shoelaces of their colleagues from other coalition parties.
This month, the reformed communist SDĽ party (a habitual coalition prankster) submitted a bill that would forbid membership in more than one party at a time. The law took direct aim at the senior coalition party, the SDK, which is itself a constellation of five 'mother parties', most of whose members hold dual membership in the SDK and their original blocs. The ostensible point of the bill is to force each SDK member to line up under a single party banner, which would go a long way towards clearing up who is who in the government.

Every time a new monthly parliamentary session is convened, ruling coalition MPs seem to have two things on their mind - passing a few EU-friendly laws, and knotting the shoelaces of their colleagues from other coalition parties.

This month, the reformed communist SDĽ party (a habitual coalition prankster) submitted a bill that would forbid membership in more than one party at a time. The law took direct aim at the senior coalition party, the SDK, which is itself a constellation of five 'mother parties', most of whose members hold dual membership in the SDK and their original blocs. The ostensible point of the bill is to force each SDK member to line up under a single party banner, which would go a long way towards clearing up who is who in the government.

The real point of the SDĽ bill, however, is to blackmail the SDK, and Prime Minister Dzurinda in particular, into giving it more cabinet seats, or bank presidencies, or state administration posts, all of which the party covets and has convinced itself it should be awarded. The party has already said that if it reaches a "compromise" with Dzurinda, the bill will be withdrawn.

The problem is that on the very same day (June 21) the SDĽ bill passed first reading, another identical bill - this one submitted by the opposition HZDS - was passed as well. So now, even if the SDĽ does withdraw its proposal, there is still the danger that others in the coalition who are angry with Dzurinda may support the HZDS bill and cook the PM's potatoes nicely.

How nicely? Well, for starters, the PM and six of his cabinet ministers this spring dumped the SDK as a political vehicle and founded a new party, the non-parliamentary SDKÚ, which Dzurinda will use to fight 2002 elections. If a new law prevents this crew from holding membership in the SDKÚ and the SDK simultaneously, then they'll either have to jump back to the SDK, or be withdrawn from office, the PM included - after all, they weren't elected for the SDKÚ, and thus have no right to hold executive posts in the name of that party.

Although that clearly won't happen, it's quite obvious that the four coalition parties are readying for a major cabinet shakeup. If, as is possible, Dzurinda decides to turn the SDKÚ into a sixth 'mother party' within the SDK, and thus hold on to his post, the other five SDK blocs will be able to claim that they are not equally represented in the cabinet posts the SDK holds. If the SDK simply collapses for lack of interest, then some of its consituent parties may join forces with Pavol Hamžík's SOP party to form one of the larger ruling coalition forces - and again make a grab for cabinet seats. Either way, the SDĽ looks to profit from mopping up the spilt milk.

Equal parts depressing and confusing, this latest government squall may not blow over for months to come.

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