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Hamžík wants SOP to remain independent

After a year-and-a-half on the political scene, the Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP) held its second national congress on June 26 to elect a new chairman and state its intention to remain an independent party focusing on promoting unity within the government.
As the sole candidate for the chairmanship, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Pavol Hamžík was expected to be named to the SOP leadership post when The Slovak Spectator went to press. The party's last chairman, Rudolf Schuster, left the chair after being elected to the Slovak presidency May 29.

After a year-and-a-half on the political scene, the Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP) held its second national congress on June 26 to elect a new chairman and state its intention to remain an independent party focusing on promoting unity within the government.

As the sole candidate for the chairmanship, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Pavol Hamžík was expected to be named to the SOP leadership post when The Slovak Spectator went to press. The party's last chairman, Rudolf Schuster, left the chair after being elected to the Slovak presidency May 29.

Hamžík, 55, was a former ambassador to Germany and foreign minister under Mečiar's government in 1996. He described on June 22 how he planned to lead the way towards a new kind of Slovak politics, one in which politicians mean what they say and don't try to illegally better themselves through their positions.

"Even though there have been various experiences with politicians in the past, we're eager to perform serious politics for the benefit of citizens," he said. "There have been doubts about politicians in the former government and there are doubts about the ones in the new cabinet, but we want to conduct politics with clean hands."

The SOP party was formed in January 1998 by well-known politicians from diverse eras of the Slovak political spectrum from communism to Mečiarism. The party pledged to try to bridge the gap between the Mečiar-led block and the developing SDK coalition which is now in power, criticising the amount of time being wasted on political fights.

In exchange for supporting the ruling coalition, the young party received the right to nominate Schuster for the presidency. Now that the election is over, Hamžík said, the party is ready to refocus its efforts into creating a strong, independent party with set political goals, international partners, an increased membership, and more regional and district offices.

"Now," Hamžík said, "the party will focus on proving its status as a reliable political partner within the coalition, and as a standard political entity with an attempt to achieve a higher level of culture in Slovak politics."

But even though the SOP leaders strongly state their intention to remain independent, some analysts think otherwise. They opine that the party will likely merge with a stronger or better-known party of similar orientation, such as with the similarly center-left Social Democrats party.

Deputy chairman of the SDĽ party Ľubomír Andrássy, 25, fuelled rumours by saying he could picture the Slovak left-wing fusing together into a "strong leftist bloc, which would form the alternative to center or right wing parties." He doubted, however, that the SDĽ would join another party before the 2002 elections.

One minor party also thinks the SOP might want to join with them. Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS) deputy chairman Jozef Krumpolec said he thought the SOP might want to get together with his party in part to benefit from its international ties. "One of the possible solutions would be the SOP merger with the SDSS which is a member of the Socialist International," he said.

A merger with the SOP, however, would only happen in the distant future, Krumpolec said.

Hamžík swept all such rumours away, saying that "the party [SOP] does not intend to fuse with anyone. We will make individual and independent politics as a center-left party."

As part of its effort to strengthen the party, at the June 26 congress, the SOP will reorganise the decision making process to allow the party's 87 district and regional offices to participate in making decisions.

"The party, led by two or three representatives, doesn't have any perspective and therefore its management needs to be reorganised," he added.

Though it wields considerable power in the government, the party has a limited membership in the general populace. Hamžik's government office secretary, Marcel Kasanicky said he thought there were about 5,000 members in the party, while the SOP personnel officer said she was not permitted to give details about the size of the membership.

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