The fabric of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the largest government party, unravelled further on February 14 with the announcement of SDK leader and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda that he had filed for the registration of a new party - the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).
Dzurinda, backed by four cabinet ministers representing the SDK and 21 of 42 MP's for the party, said he intended to run for the chairmanship of the new SDKÚ this fall, but to keep the SDK caucus united until the 2002 elections. The Prime Minister vowed that the SDK would keep the promises it made to voters in 1998, as well as the bargains it made with the other three parties of the ruling coalition.
Dzurinda was supported by Roman Kováč, leader of the SDK caucus. "The SDK caucus will remain united until 2002 elections, even though half of its parliamentary members have said they will join the new SDKÚ," he said.
Despite these assurances, an unbridgeable gap seems to have opened within the SDK caucus between those jumping ship to the SDKÚ and those remaining with one of the SDK's five founding parties.
The Christian Democrats, traditionally the most powerful SDK faction, has recently suffered a wave of high level defections to the new SDKÚ, including seven of its total 16 MP's, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, Transport Minister Jozef Macejko and Prime Minister Dzurinda himself. As Justice Minister and Christian Democrat leader Ján Čarnogurský prepares to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the party's founding from February 19-21, he must also come to terms with the party's recent disastrous showing in the polls - 2.7%, down from 10.8% in 1994 elections.
The woes of the Christian Democrats had some members promising to leave the SDK and establish a new parliamentary caucus. František Mikloško, a long-time Christian Democrat MP, said the recent changes had sown confusion in voters' minds which could only be eliminated with the creation of a Christian Democrat caucus "some time before the next elections."
But political professionals said that the SDK's more militant member factions were out of step with the modern Slovak electorate, which wanted to see consolidation rather than further disintegration among the country's major political parties.
Soňa Szomolányi, head of the department of political science at Bratislava's Comenius University, pointed to a January poll by the Markant agency in which the new SDKÚ had attracted 13.4% support - and in which the deeply divided SDK hadn't even been listed, while its five founding parties collectively won only 8.5%.
"This [poll] is evidence that SDK voters prefer a strong and unified political bloc over individual small parties," Szomolányi.
As to whether the SDK's founding parties would accept the writing on the wall and keep their caucus united, political scientist Miroslav Kusý said that "the instinct for self-preservation" would likely stop rebellious SDK members from destroying the caucus. "The country is on the brink of a precipice," he said. "There is a threat of early elections, and doubts about the reliability of top politicians. If the SDK caucus broke up, it would be political suicide for the government. That's why I think we can expect to see the SDK remain united."