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EDITORIAL

President Schuster: Not just another chicken in the box

Slovakia finally has a president - 65 year-old Košice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, who won the May 29 ballot by a 15% margin over former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
For western diplomats and foreign investors, it is irrelevant that Schuster is a former top communist official. Indeed, as long as it did not elect the authoritarian Mečiar, Slovakia could have chosen a donkey for its top executive office and still have won praise in the west for having taken another positive step on the path towards a stable democracy and a calm political environment.

Slovakia finally has a president - 65 year-old Košice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, who won the May 29 ballot by a 15% margin over former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

For western diplomats and foreign investors, it is irrelevant that Schuster is a former top communist official. Indeed, as long as it did not elect the authoritarian Mečiar, Slovakia could have chosen a donkey for its top executive office and still have won praise in the west for having taken another positive step on the path towards a stable democracy and a calm political environment.

For Slovaks, however, there are many reasons not to count the election of Rudolf Schuster as "another chicken in the box," to use the words of UK Ambassador David Lyscom (the expression presumably means 'another required task that one has completed').

Firstly, Slovaks elected Schuster because they had no other reasonable choice. The reason they had no choice was because Schuster, in his consuming ambition to win the presidency, forced the ruling coalition to support him.

This state of affairs is not uncommon in modern-day Slovakia; personal greed for power and profit still far outweighs political conviction in the legislative and executive branches of government. It does mean, however, that Slovakia did not make any significant strides towards political normalcy on May 29.

Secondly, Schuster's election has neither united nor strengthened the left wing elements of the government. Nor has it forced the right wing to close ranks and produce a clear economic vision. Instead, it seems to have had a "knock-on effect" - another Lyscomism presumably meaning a chain reaction of some sort - on personal ambition in the ruling coalition.

The government coalition is made up of four parties - the former communist SDĽ and Schuster's Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP) on the left of the political spectrum, the sprawling Slovak Democratic Coalition somewhere in the centre, and the ethnically-based Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) backing whoever speaks nicely about Hungarians.

Schuster founded the SOP early last year to serve him as a springboard into the presidency. Now that the party has served its purpose, having hoisted a former communist into the country's top executive position, one would think it would sooner or later be absorbed by the SDĽ, with which it shares a social democratic vision.

If such a union were to occur, it would give the joint SOP-SDĽ wing 42 seats in parliament, the same number as the SDK. In terms of political clout, however, the social democrats would far outweigh the SDK, which is still quarrelling over which of its five founding parties' visions it should adopt.

But no such merger will happen. Pavol Hamžík, Schuster's right hand man in the SOP and Slovakia's Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, is likely to be given Schuster's old job at the SOP's June 26 national congress. Hamžik, once a Foreign Minister in the third Mečiar government, is far too ambitious to countenance a merger with the SDĽ no matter how much that might simplify the country's crowded left wing scene.

Nor has the reluctance of many voters to elect Schuster, and the fact that many felt they had no choice, been a bugle in the ears of the SDK's right wing parties - the Christian Democrats, led by Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, and the Democratic Party of Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Mikloš. Slovakia has long needed a right wing option to its many left wing dinosaurs, but the Christian Democrats are still too top-heavy with personal ambitions to give serious thought to a sensible right-wing platform.

And so on. The SDĽ's most popular politician, Róbert Fico, has been making a fool of himself in the press recently with anti-Hungarian and anti-NATO rhetoric in an apparent attempt to raise his political profile. Fico's political ambitions have been cramped in the SDĽ, and he is reportedly biting his nails over whether to launch an entirely new social democratic faction.

So, too, is Ivan Mjartan, the good-looking and smooth-talking former Slovak Ambassador to the Czech Republic under the Mečiar government. Mjartan used his candidacy in the recent presidential elections to increase his media exposure preparatory to launching - you guessed it - another social democratic party.

Even Mečiar's HZDS party, which must have been thrilled with its chairman's 42% support, will not be able to build on its moral victory. The HZDS must transform from a movement into a normal party - that is, from a bunch of populists without political consciences into a democratically-run party with clear ideals - or it is finished. But this transformation cannot occur until The Boss is sent packing and fresh ideas are at last able to waft in through the door. And with 42% support, Mečiar has if anything solidified his grip on the party.

Prime Minister Dzurinda begged the parties - and more importantly the egos - of the ruling coalition for a one-year truce in which the government would have a free hand to sort out its economic problems. Good luck to him if he gets even six months, but 10 cents to a dollar says The Egos break the bargain before the summer is out.

After all, Slovak politics still rewards those who can't master their own ambitions. Just ask Rudolf Schuster.

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