SDĽ slows discussions with power demands

A struggle for cabinet seats between the four victorious parties of the former opposition continues to stymie efforts to put together a new government. Members of the Hungarian Coalition Party pointed the finger of blame at the leftist SDĽ party, saying that it was demanding more influence in the new administration than it deserved.
"The SDĽ think they are worth more than their election results showed," said Béla Bugár, the Hungarian party chairman, adding that a plan to assign ministerial posts proportional to the election results of each party had foundered due to SDĽ intransigence.
After four weeks of intensive negotiations, "the four," as the parties call themselves, jointly declared on October 16 that they would have a coalition government agreement signed by October 27.

A struggle for cabinet seats between the four victorious parties of the former opposition continues to stymie efforts to put together a new government. Members of the Hungarian Coalition Party pointed the finger of blame at the leftist SDĽ party, saying that it was demanding more influence in the new administration than it deserved.

"The SDĽ think they are worth more than their election results showed," said Béla Bugár, the Hungarian party chairman, adding that a plan to assign ministerial posts proportional to the election results of each party had foundered due to SDĽ intransigence.

After four weeks of intensive negotiations, "the four," as the parties call themselves, jointly declared on October 16 that they would have a coalition government agreement signed by October 27. After an October 20 round table, however, Bugár cast doubt on the likelihood of the parties reaching agreement within so short a timeframe.

The two minor former opposition parties, Bugár's Hungarians and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), have declared since September elections that cabinet posts and senior Parliamentary functions should be divided among the four parties according to their election results.

According to this plan, eight posts would go to the largest opposition party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), while five would be taken by the SDĽ, and three each by the Hungarians and the SOP.

But Bugár accused the SDĽ of holding out for six instead of five seats, and said that the two stronger parties had even suggested that the ratio be changed to 9:6:2:2. "The SDĽ also claim that their strong foreign contacts increase their political worth in the new government," Bugár added.

Since being embarrassed by a document leaked to private Rádio Twist, in which specific names were mentioned in connection with specific posts, the negotiating parties have been tight-lipped about the progress of discussions. SDĽ spokesman Ľubomír Andrássy denied Bugár's accusations, but would add only that "the SDĽ is focused on the new government's political program, and not striving for more ministerial posts."

Since coming out on October 2 with a hardline position against Hungarian involvement in the government, the SDĽ has toned down its rhetoric considerably, with party vice chairman Robert Fico declaring on October 21 that "these are normal political negotiations, taking place in such a way that an agreement will be reached."

SDK chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda, widely expected to be Slovakia's next Premier, agreed that such disputes and partisan struggles were only natural in such important negotiations. "I would not talk about antitheses [between the SDĽ and the SMK], I'd say that there are just many wide interests and finding harmony between them is not as simple as people would expect," he said.

According to Dzurinda, the core purpose of the negotiations is to create a stable four-year government. "The attitude to the SMK statements on these issues is the very last obstacle to be solved to have the government programme theses ready to be signed," Dzurinda added.

Despite these high-level reassurances, the Hungarians continued to accuse the SDĽ of being unwilling to compromise, and said that the SDĽ's October 24 national party congress might well yet decide to block Hungarian involvement in the government. Andrassy, however, replied that "the gentlemen in the Hungarian party should not get stomach pains over what is going to be discussed at the conference."

Whatever the results of the congress, though, the patience of the Hungarians had worn thin by late October. "We have asked our coalition partners to clear up the disputes on the remaining questions and, if possible, to announce the structure of the government in terms of which party will get which posts," said Pál Csáky, the vice-chairman of the Hungarian party, at an October 21 press conference.

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