Justice Minister Čarnogurský (left) is locked in battle with PM Dzurinda.
The non-confidence motion - the fifth so far involving a cabinet minister - was initiated by the opposition HZDS party, and as The Slovak Spectator went to press, the matter still had not been put to a vote. But MP's with the ruling coalition Democratic Left (SDĽ) and Civic Understanding (SOP) parties had already vowed to abstain from voting.
The SDĽ, which contains many former communists, had been angered by Čarnogurský's decision on December 1 to establish an office at the Justice Ministry for the investigation of communist-era crimes. The office is led by Marian Gula, former chief of the Czech Institute for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism.
The SOP's Pavol Hamžík, meanwhile, said that "if we want to recall Čarnogurský we will initiate it ourselves." Both parties have declared their dissatisfaction with the Justice Minister's handling of his portfolio, where courts still move slowly and concerns over the independence of the judiciary have not been erased.
But a far greater threat to Čarnogurský's political future may be emerging within his own Christian Democrats party, which is a faction within the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Čarnogurský, a communist-era dissident jailed by the former regime, has led the Christian Democrats since their founding in 1990. But in the last several years, particularly after the absorption of the party by the SDK in 1998, the Christian Democrats' preferences have been slipping. In the 1994 parliamentary election, the party received 10.1% of votes, but a December 1999 poll conducted by the IVO think tank gave the Christian Democrats only 3.8% of popular support.
A strong rival for Čarnogurský's leadership has recently emerged within the party - SDK member and Deputy Foreign Minister Ján Figeľ, who announced he would renew his membership in the Christian Democrats on February 4.
"I still haven't decided whether I'm going to run for the chairman's seat. But I'm not satisfied with the situation inside the Christian Democrats, a party which I helped to establish in 1990," Figeľ told The Slovak Spectator on February 2.
Figeľ was heavily critical of the Christian Democrats' current leadership. "The party has been continually losing power since 1990," he said. "We have more than 30,000 members and lot of municipal officials belonging to the Christian Democrats, but we haven't been able to use this potential on the parliamentary level. We're simply too closed and too Catholic. We have to offer a new agenda to more people."
Christian Democrat stalwarts such as Vladimír Palko and František Mikloško have not responded well to Figeľ's intended return, saying he has been out of the party too long to have a feel for its needs. Čarnogurský supporters also see an ulterior motive in Figeľ's bid for the leadership - as an ally of Prime Minister Dzurinda, Figeľ is suspected of wanting to capture the hard line Christian Democrats for his leader.
Most political analysts support the view that Figeľ is something of a Trojan horse sent by Dzurinda. Ľuboš Kubín, a political analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said that Figel's victory at the Christian Democrats' autumn national congress would be useful for Dzurinda, who "would then have a more co-operative partner in the Christian Democrats than Čarnogurský."
Dzurinda surprised many of his SDK colleagues at the beginning of January by announcing the formation of an entirely new party - the Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ). The move was seen as a ploy to divide and conquer the SDK's five founding parties by forcing their members to choose between following Dzurinda into the new SDKÚ and remaining with their old colleagues.
Verbally, at least, Figeľ opposes the foundation of the SDKÚ, which he says could fatally weaken the Christian Democrats. "I have friends on both sides," he said. "I dont agree with Miki's (Dzurinda's) intention to establish a new party, but I also criticize the current Christian Democratic leaders. We are now threatened by the loss of young liberals in the party, who may follow Prime Minister Dzurinda. We are at a very important crossroads."
Political analyst Miroslav Kusý gave Figeľ a better-than-even chance of winning the Christian leadership, and added that if Figeľ then led the Christian Democrats back into coalition with the SDKÚ, "his victory would definitely help Dzurinda."
But Grigorij Mesežnikov, the president of the Institute of Public Affairs, said Figeľ was unlikely to defeat Čarnogurský. "Figeľ is considered as Dzurinda's man by the Christian Democrats," he said. "If any of them wanted to support Dzurinda, they would join the SDKÚ. Conservative Christian Democrat members will definitely vote for Čarnogurský."