Time to decide. Members of the ruling SDK party must check their political consciences more than their watches if the party is to survive intact.
The SDK's problems became public fare on November 23 when Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský refused to support his own government's programme, which had been submitted to Parliament on November 19. Čarnogurský said he could not support a programme which did not give equal state support to religious schools.
Čarnogurský's cabinet colleagues at first downplayed his defiant position, with Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš calling it "unfortunate", but an "internal SDK matter."
But following Čarnogurský's public apostasy, other SDK politicians spoke of rising tensions within the party. Jaroslav Volf, leader of one of the SDK's smaller member parties, told The Slovak Spectator that "it's getting really tense, but discussing the break-up of the party is still a taboo topic. The taboo comes from the leadership of the SDK."
Volf said that the SDK crisis could be defused in three ways - by turning the party into either a coalition or a confederation, or by dissolving it entirely. Political analysts, however, said that each of the above alternatives could slow decision making within the SDK and ultimately cause the government to fall.
Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist at Comenius University in Bratislava, said that turning the SDK into a coalition of its five member parties could "impair the decision making mechanism to a large extent, and this might lead to stagnation within the government followed by the necessity for new elections."
Roots of the crisis
The SDK's current turmoil has confirmed the dismal pre-election predictions of many political analysts, who said that the party was crippled by internal disunity.
"The SDK, in its current form, won't survive the next four years," said Luboš Kubín, a political scientist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "That's why the party has to go through a process of internal institutional change."
According to Kubin, the heart of the problem is that the joint political programme of the SDK does not fully satisfy any of its five member parties, which range from free-market conservatives to former communists and environmentalists.
What is more, the SDK member parties as of July 1998 have not had an equal voice in deciding the SDK's collective strategy: the stronger Christian Democrats and Democratic Union outvote their three weaker partners by more than 4 to 1. "Thus, the SDK's decision-making process is unbalanced," added Kubín.
This imbalance, explained Kusý, has been frustrating for the three smaller parties. "The small parties are not respected enough, and any SDK reform should consolidate their positions," he said.
Curing the problem, however, is proving more difficult than diagnosing it. According to SDK deputy Vladimír Palko, the SDK's greatest weakness lies in the fact that none of its five member parties have to date been dissolved. As a result, members of the SDK remain members of its various constituent parties, creating dual loyalties that lead to such events as Čarnogurský's decision not to support the government programme.
Palko's vision of the SDK's future involved dissolving it and returning to a five-member coalition in which each party had a veto over collective decisions.
Another strong initiative for SDK reform has been proposed by party deputy Ivan Šimko, who would like to see the SDK continue as a kind of umbrella party, under which each of the five member parties would keep its political identity.
Kubín said that the SDK's best chance of survival was to return to the coalition favoured by Palko, and to stay away from Šimko's umbrella party. "This [union] type of party doesn't have any tradition in Slovak constitutional or political history. Politicians and the public would speculate more about the real meaning of the term and forget about solving real problems," he said
The SDK's internal convulsions have not impressed its governing coalition partners. Béla Bugár, chairman of the Hungarian SMK party, said that "if the SDK thinks there is a problem to be solved, let them solve it after the four year government term in office."
Rudolf Schuster, chairman of the minor SOP coalition partner, refused even to credit the notion of SDK reform. "We signed the coalition agreement with the SDK and not a different party, so I'm convinced that no change within the party is going to happen," he said.
Opposition deputies, meanwhile, have hailed the party's problems as opening divisions in the government and new opportunities for the opposition. "Čarnogurský's gesture was just another example of friction within the SDK," said Ján Cuper, a deputy with the HZDS party, adding that Čarnogurský had simply been flexing his political muscles. "[Premier] Mikuláš Dzurinda is the leader of the SDK, but he does not control it. It is Čarnogurský himself who manipulates party affairs from the background."
Oľga Keltošová, another HZDS member, told The Slovak Spectator on November 30 that the HZDS had no objections to cooperating with Čarnogurský's faction within the SDK, the Christian Democrats. "The Christian Democrats, as a political body, are far more acceptable for us than the SDK," said Keltošová.
7. Dec 1998 at 0:00 | Slavomír Danko