For all his talk about government stability, it looks very much as if Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda has started his preparations for early elections.
First, he's launched a campaign to wipe out his opponents within his divided SDK party. Declaring the need to form a strong centre-right bloc that could contest the 2002 elections as a single unit (rather than the SDK's unravelling quilt of five mother parties, or 'platforms'), the PM has begun using people who support him in each platform to bust up the SDK mother parties and eliminate resistance to the new SDKÚ, Dzurinda's chosen election vehicle. By this strategy (eliminating competing parties) he hopes to build voter support for the SDKÚ, as well as guarantee himself a future place in politics if the SDK comes apart at the seams.
Second, he's begun buddying-up to journalists again, and using the media to plug his political ambitions rather than the government's aims. During a recent and very brief press conference after his meeting with independent MP Róbert Fico, Dzurinda was asked by TV Markíza journalist Daniel Krajcer if he had time for one more question. Dzurinda's response: "Daniel, you're from such a strong media that you could ask me another 100 questions." And then there's the question of Dzurinda's meeting Fico at all - what is the prime minister doing giving one independent MP the time of day, far less the honour of a highly publicised meeting? Oh, of course - Fico's new Smer party is leading the SDKÚ in the polls by 23% to 13%, and each wanted some prime time coverage in which to repeat the names of their parties. "Smer is in favour of non-corrupt privatisation." "The SDKÚ is looking for political stability." Thank-you, gentlemen.
Finally, talk of how to defeat former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, whose opposition HZDS party is at almost 30% in the polls, is once again on everyone's lips around the SDKÚ camp. With the next elections over two years away, why is Dzurinda girding for war, unless he expects to take the field in the relatively near future?
Many people who voted for Dzurinda in 1998 now confess to a feeling of disappointment when they see the prime minister's mug on the television. They hear him reiterate his commitment to political stability, to fighting corruption, giving the public free access to information and gaining entrance to western alliances, but watch him at the same time sow dissent within his own party, drag his feet on putting experts rather than political appointees in charge of state monopolies, and dither on taking the very economic reform steps that would solidify the country's bid to enter NATO, the EU and the OECD. The structure of government promises remains, but one gets the feeling the boss has already left the building.
Much the same situation was captured in the 1987 film Roger and Me, in which journalist Michael Moore fruitlessly pursued GM boss Roger E. Smith for an explanation of why GM had closed its factory in the company town of Flint, Michigan. Moore wanted to ask Smith what responsibility, if any, large corporations should have for their employees, but never got the chance, barred as he was by Smith's flawless press corps armour.
One could pose some similar questions to Dzurinda now. What responsibility does the prime minister have to the parties which founded the SDK, and which he is now bent on destroying? What responsibility does he have to voters, many of whom believed that under Dzurinda corruption would not be tolerated? If the SDK is closing shop, either to help the PM fight early elections or survive a challenge to his cabinet leadership, doesn't anyone - voters, the SDK's coalition partners - deserve an honest explanation of the reasons why?
But politicians, like CEOs of large companies, march to their own drummers, and one is as likely to get real answers from Dzurinda as Moore was to arrange an interview with Roger E. Smith.