The cabinet of Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda received a parliamentary vote of confidence on December 2 when 88 out of 150 deputies voted in favour of the proposed cabinet programme.
During the same session, however, government was rocked when 29 members of the ruling coalition parties supported an opposition proposal to establish equal financial conditions for state and church schools, to found a Catholic university and to conclude an agreement with Vatican.
These same conditions had recently been proposed for inclusion in the government programme by Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, who had actually voted against the programme on November 19 when his demand was not met.
Peter Brňák, a deputy with the opposition HZDS party of former premier Vladimír Mečiar, proposed on December 2 that the Čarnogurský conditions be met by the cabinet. The Brňák motion won 79 votes, 29 of which came from the ranks of the ruling SDK party and the Christian Democrat faction which Čarnogurský leads. While the vote effectively split the SDK, it was opposed by the former communist SDĽ party and the SOP junior coalition partner. The SMK Hungarian party, the fourth coalition member, abstained from voting.
Premier Dzurinda, who also chairs the SDK and leads a less conservative faction within the Christian Democrats, said at a snap conference called after the vote that he was disappointed by the willingness of his party mates to work with the HZDS. "I feel sad to see a number of SDK deputies appearing in one row with Ivan Lexa," Dzurinda said, referring to the notorious former head of Slovakia's secret police who is now a HZDS deputy.
The SDK party was formed in July 1998 of five widely disparate parties of the former opposition. Although it is the largest party in the four-member coalition government with 42 of 93 seats, the SDK is currently facing tension between its large and small member parties, as well as between a group of progressive liberal politicians, including the Democratic Union party and the Christian Democrats loyal to Premier Dzurinda, and a group of conservative deputies including Čarnogurský's Christian Democrat followers and the Democratic Party.
Following the dramatic vote, Čarnogurský claimed that the opposition proposal had not been pre-arranged between the Christian Democrats and the HZDS. "The Christian Democratic Movement (or KDH, as the party is formally known) cannot yet imagine cooperation with the HZDS," Čarnogurský said. "It's just a part of the parliamentary game, and it has no significant political importance."
Brňák said it was too early to speculate about potential ties between the left-wing HZDS and the right-wing Christian Democrats. "Let it all mature, as it should," he said.