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Mečiar says HZDS holding secret talks with ruling parties

Vladimír Mečiar withdrew from public life after losing parliamentary elections in 1998 to the united opposition, and has given few media interviews since waving goodbye to voters on public television on September 29, 1998. Naturally, what few public statements he does make are sifted for meaning by both his supporters and his critics.
A recent interview with Mečiar that was published in the October 23 issue of the daily paper Národná Obroda is a case in point. Mečiar spoke mostly of the likelihood of early parliamentary elections and of his certain return to politics. He also dropped something of a bombshell - for almost a year, he said, his HZDS party had been holding secret negotiations with individual parties of the ruling coalition.


Vladimír Mečiar, left, talks with Peter Weiss of the SDĽ in 1996. The former PM says he has again been meeting SDĽ officials.
photo: Peter Brenkus

Vladimír Mečiar withdrew from public life after losing parliamentary elections in 1998 to the united opposition, and has given few media interviews since waving goodbye to voters on public television on September 29, 1998. Naturally, what few public statements he does make are sifted for meaning by both his supporters and his critics.

A recent interview with Mečiar that was published in the October 23 issue of the daily paper Národná Obroda is a case in point. Mečiar spoke mostly of the likelihood of early parliamentary elections and of his certain return to politics. He also dropped something of a bombshell - for almost a year, he said, his HZDS party had been holding secret negotiations with individual parties of the ruling coalition.

Mečiar's statements had both government politicians and political analysts talking. Political scientist Luboš Kubín, who works for the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said that any talk of early elections was nonsense because such an event would require the support of two-thirds of MP's (90 out of a total of 150), and the opposition controlled only 57 seats.

However, Kubín said a far greater danger existed that the HZDS - the largest party in parliament with 43 seats - would convince some members of the current government to work with the opposition if tensions within the ruling coalition ever became unbearable.

Mečiar told Národná Obroda that the priority of the HZDS was to transform itself from a 'movement' - a less ideological, more populist political body - into a normal political party. As a result of this transformation, he said, there would be a realignment of parties on the Slovak political scene, with many parties developing closer relations with the HZDS.

"Whether they like it or not, we're here and we'll be in a dominant first position for the forseeable future, and other parties will have to define their relations towards us. And that's changing even today," said Mečiar.

On October 26, four days after the interview was published, the HZDS political board approved the movement's transformation into a standard political party with a strong social programme. However, the move still must be authorised by the HZDS national board, which is still divided over the movement's future identity (see News Briefs, page 7).

Government politicians said they would wait to see what kind of HZDS came out of the transformation process, but that at the moment they saw no room for either discussion or closer co-operation with the HZDS.

"The HZDS should begin practising real, practical politics. Only then could I imagine negotiations being held. But I don't think any such change will occur," said Ľubomír Andrassy, vice-chairman of the reformed communist SDĽ party.

"The HZDS has one main problem," said František Mikloško of the Christian Democrats, a right-wing traditionalist platform within the ruling SDK party. "They have over 30% voter support, but no political party wants to do business with them because of their aggressive political style. Our party cannot imagine co-operating with the HZDS either, as long as Vladimír Mečiar is at the helm."

Other government MP's were less strident, but still refused to work with the HZDS under Mečiar. "The HZDS is undergoing a great transformation," said Roman Kováč, vice chairman of the Democratic Union, a centrist and peacekeeping influence within the SDK. "In the leadership of the movement we can see new faces, which bears witness to the fact that the HZDS is practising different politics than it has done until now. We'll have to wait and see. But if it remains a one-man show - that of Vladimír Mečiar - any co-operation is out of the question."

Despite these skeptical responses, Mečiar continues to maintain that the HZDS could form a majority government in the current (1998-2002) election term with fragments of the current ruling coalition and the silent support of its partner in the last government, the far-right nationalist SNS party.

"For almost a year now we have had a political resolution that says that potential partners for us are the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Union, the SDĽ and the SOP [junior ruling coalition partner]. We would take one, maybe two of these parties with us into a majority government."

"That's news to me," said Kováč of the Democratic Union. "I work in the top organs of the party, as vice-chairman, and I've never heard anyone in the party leadership say that the Democratic Party had been approached in this regard. I have to say that such statements again only confirm the way in which Vladimír Mečiar operates."

Ferdinand Petrák, chairman of the SOP's parliamentary caucus, said that Mečiar's suggestion of collaboration between the HZDS and SOP "bears no relation to the truth." If any SOP member of parliament were to negotiate with the HZDS leader on his or her own behalf, he said, "it would mean nothing, because MP's don't have a mandate to conduct negotiations on behalf of political parties."

The SDĽ's Andrassy, too, refuted Mečiar's words. "From the side of the SDĽ, no political negotiations with the HZDS are going on. Vladimír Mečiar even in the previous election period [1994-1998] lied when he spoke about co-ordination between the HZDS and the SDĽ. This is only what he wishes to be true."

Mikloško of the Christian Democrats agreed, calling Mečiar's interview and statements another example of his personal political style. "Let me phrase this biologically - it takes seven years for a human being's brain cells to be exchanged for new ones. Let's leave Mečiar in opposition for seven years, and then ask him if he's changed."

Mečiar, for his part, saw no reason for the HZDS to jettison him. "Some politicians say 'get rid of Mečiar, and we'll form a government with you.' But the HZDS responds, why should we get rid of someone who has the stable support of one-third of society? Just because we want to negotiate with people who have the stable support of three percent of voters?"

Mikloško said he thought Mečiar's aim in suggesting he had been holding secret talks with government parties was to weaken the coalition. Asked if he could imagine any coalition party negotiating with the HZDS, Mikloško said "only the SDĽ. But while Mečiar is still there, the rule still applies - every political embrace with Mečiar is fatal."

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