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Dzurinda gears up for 2002 battle with Mečiar

Hoping to gain enough support to give the HZDS and there popular leader Vladimír Mečiar a decent fight in the 2002 national elections, the new party established by current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda began recruiting and registering members on April 4. Known as the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKŮ), six government ministers and 21 members of parliament have already signed on.
"We want to build a strong political party with clear priorities towards a liberal economy, the transformation of public administration, and a strong drive towards the European Union and NATO," said Peter Miššík, an SDKŮ founder and the head of the party's Nitra Region Office.
Party representatives said that they wanted to build up a strong and united pro-reform political party with 20% popular support.


Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda (left) announced the launching of his new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), with party-mate Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan.
photo: TASR

Hoping to gain enough support to give the HZDS and there popular leader Vladimír Mečiar a decent fight in the 2002 national elections, the new party established by current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda began recruiting and registering members on April 4. Known as the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKŮ), six government ministers and 21 members of parliament have already signed on.

"We want to build a strong political party with clear priorities towards a liberal economy, the transformation of public administration, and a strong drive towards the European Union and NATO," said Peter Miššík, an SDKŮ founder and the head of the party's Nitra Region Office.

Party representatives said that they wanted to build up a strong and united pro-reform political party with 20% popular support. Through co-operation with other parties, they said, the SDKŮ would therefore be a strong political force countering Mečiar's HZDS party, which currently tops the polls with 30% support.

But if Dzurinda's party is to compete with the HZDS they have a significant gap to close - the latest polls show the SDKŮ's popularity hovering between 11% and 13%. While HZDS officials said that the SDKŮ would not be a threat come next election, analysts were divided on the issue.

"The SDKŮ is just group of former SDK leaders, who have not yet been able to realise their own incompetence in solving the current problems of Slovak society," HZDS Vice-Chairman Jozef Božík told The Slovak Spectator on April 12. "I don't believe they could threaten our leading position among Slovak political parties."

Power play

After spending much of his tenure as Slovak Prime Minister unable to quiet squabbles within his own SDK party, Dzurinda has often been criticised for lacking any real political power - Dzurinda chaired a group of political parties which banded together in 1998 to defeat Mečiar, but who have since strayed from the mother-party as they attempt to establish their own, separate political identities.

"Establishing the SDKŮ was a means for Dzurinda to keep his political power," said Miroslav Kusý, a political analyst with Comenius University and a former advisor to Czechoslovak President Václav Havel. "For party members like Ján Čarnogurský [Slovak Justice Minister and the chairman of the SDK member party the Christian Democrats - KDH], Dzurinda is nothing more than a speaker of the SDK, who had no political relevance. But, now [Dzurinda] has some political power behind his back."

That "power" now backing up the Prime Minister comes in the form of Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, Industry Minister Ľubomír Harach, Telecom minister Jozef Macejko, Health Minister Tibor Šagát, Culture Minister Milan Kňažko, and Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner.

But Ľuboš Kubín, a political analyst with the Slovak Academy of Science, said he didn't believe the SDKŮ would be able to unify voters and increase popular support. "Slovak society is very similar to countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg which typically exist with several political parties occupying the centre and the right on the political stage - not with just two strong opposite parties," he said. "The SDKŮ will gain no more than 12% or 13 % of the electorate."

Hoping to gain more, the SDKŮhas already created offices in all eight Slovak regions and, according to SDKŮ member Ivan Šimko, wants to "enlarge our network to districts and towns" next month. The final programme of the SDKŮ will be approved at the party conference this year in November. "Prime Minister Dzurinda is considered as the best candidate for the chairmanship," Šimko said.

Expensive membership

One aspect of the SDKŮ which has puzzled observers is the party's inordinate membership fees, to be levied on a three-tier basis. According to the initial plan, members with no regular income (such as students or the unemployed) would pay a 100 crown annual membership fee, employed members would pay 1% of their annual income, and card-carrying state officials would shell out 10% of their total yearly take.

Miššík said that he realised the membership fees were high, but added that the decision had been taken intentionally in order to create exclusivity in the party. "We don't want to have a large number of members," he said. "We'd prefer a smaller membership with a strong responsibility of the members towards the political activities they participate in."

But Kubín said the SDKŮ had ulterior motives for keeping membership low. "According to SDKŮ rules, all party candidates in the state administration [i.e. government, parliament, state institutions] would have to be approved by primary elections. But if there there's only a small group of members, important decisions would be taken by only 20 people." Kubín also said that he believed the party would give more power to internally-elected officials than to elected ones.

With the planned exclusive membership, others have questioned the SDKŮ's selection of its high-profile members. Dzurinda hasn't excluded the participation of his close allies former Telecom Minister Gabriel Palacka and former Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák, both of whom were ousted amidst flurries of corruption allegations last year.

The SDKŮ's Miššík said that the former ministers' inclusion would not hurt the party since it was open to all who share the same political ideologies. "Moreover, Palacka and Černák were only suspected [of corruption] - there was no evidence they really did anything," he said. "Thus there are no obstacles for them to join the party."

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