A light in the darkness. SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda must now wait with colleagues to find out if his party will form next government.
"These elections were a turning point in Slovakia's history," said Pavol Hamžík, vice-chairman of the opposition SOP party. "The opposition will have a constitutional majority [90 out of 150 seats in Parliament], enough to elect a President and make the constitutional changes needed to return this country to a normal life."
At the headquarters of the SDK, the largest opposition party with 26.3%, the champagne and back-slapping lasted until the wee hours after polls closed. "Fantastic, just fantastic," said an emotional SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda at one point when early estimates gave the SDK a 7% lead over the HZDS.
But on September 27, the serious work of cobbling together a government between the four opposition parties got underway. At a press conference held barely 24 hours after the election, the leaders of the SDK, SOP, the reformed communist SDĽ and the Hungarian SMK coalition announced their determination to form a coalition to oust Mečiar.
Speculation had been rife that the SDĽ might be tempted to join Mečiar's party, but leader Jozef Migaš addressed the matter squarely. "We are not in favour of discussing with the HZDS the possibility of forming a new government, because Slovakia needs different leaders, a better life and better politics," Migaš said.
"The HZDS cannot buy us," continued SDĽ deputy Milan Ftáčnik, "and we 100% exclude working with [Mečiar coalition partner and far-right party] the SNS."
With the opposition house so quickly and clearly in order, all eyes turned to the HZDS and its leader. But Mečiar disappeared on September 26, and did not surface again until a September 29 government session. In his absence, Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči admitted that the HZDS would most likely go into opposition. "Do you see any other solution? We will try to form a government, but it is not probable that we will be able to form a majority government,'' Krajči said on September 29.
Krajči said his party's weak result was the result of the election campaign, during which the four large opposition parties had ganged up against the HZDS, but party deputy Ivan Gašparovič pinned the results on an ownership struggle at TV Markíza. "This simple ownership dispute was manipulated by opposition politicians to get people to vote against the HZDS," Gašparovič said.
Grumbling aside, the HZDS and indeed all parties promised to respect the results of the vote, which was declared free and fair by the Central Election Commission. "There were times [during pre-election meetings] when all commissioners argued for the sake of their own parties, which caused problems. But the elections were free and fair,'' said commission chair Iveta Lapuníková.
Kare Vollan, head of an election observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), applauded the decision of the representatives of all 17 political parties which contested the vote to authorise the election's official outcome. "Now there will be no disputes and no questions,'' Vollan said.
As the empty bottles and used cups were cleaned up at opposition party offices, the deputies newly elected to Parliament reflected on the difficult weeks and months ahead. SDK deputy Ján Čarnogurský said that "the greatest problem now is to arrest the country's financial collapse. It would be best if Mečiar left quickly, so that the new government can start dealing with the country's situation.''
By law, however, Mečiar has 30 days in which to recall Parliament, and many opposition deputies expressed fears that he would use the time to divide the would-be coalition and return to power.
These worries were not restricted to politicians. Andy Hryc, director of the private radio station Twist sent an open letter to Mečiar begging him to "be a man just like [defeated German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl and step down from your position.'' But the HZDS has remained silent on when it might recall Parliament, and has said that it intends to use all means at its disposal to lure new partners to its side.
One party that Mečiar will not have to convince is his SNS coalition ally. Party leader Ján Slota, who once said that dealing with Romanies required "a small yard and a long whip," announced on September 28 that "I would rather be in opposition with Mečiar than with the Hungarians in the ruling coalition."