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SDK sharpens its focus

Almost 9 months after its formation, the opposition SDK coalition announced on March 31 that it had elected a single leader and streamlined its decision-making process. New leader Mikuláš Dzurinda said that the SDK was now ready to turn away from internal wrangling and carve out a strong alternative program to that of the government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
The direct impetus for the changes was a new election law proposal that threatened to bar three of the SDK's five member parties from Parliament if they didn't register over 5 percent of the popular vote in September's national elections. But SDK leaders said that the latest moves were also the natural culmination of many months of negotiations between the ambitious personalities and competing political philosophies of the largest opposition grouping.


Telling it straight. KDH Chairman Ján Čarnogurský explains why he won't join the newly-formed SDK party.
Daniel Borský

Almost 9 months after its formation, the opposition SDK coalition announced on March 31 that it had elected a single leader and streamlined its decision-making process. New leader Mikuláš Dzurinda said that the SDK was now ready to turn away from internal wrangling and carve out a strong alternative program to that of the government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

The direct impetus for the changes was a new election law proposal that threatened to bar three of the SDK's five member parties from Parliament if they didn't register over 5 percent of the popular vote in September's national elections. But SDK leaders said that the latest moves were also the natural culmination of many months of negotiations between the ambitious personalities and competing political philosophies of the largest opposition grouping.

"The recent changes within the SDK were part of a process of creative exploration," said Dzurinda. "We came to an agreement on personal issues." Among the 'personal issues' that the SDK had had to solve were an unwieldy decision-making process, in which each member party held the right of veto, as well as the coalition leadership, which had previously been jointly held by five party chairmen.

The new agreement, signed by these party chairmen on March 31, is due to be ratified by the national councils of each party by April 25. The SDK Board will now make decisions on the basis of an absolute or qualified majority, while votes will be apportioned as follows: 5 for the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), 4 for the Democratic Union (DU), and one each for the Democratic Party (DS), the Green Party (SZS) and the Social Democratic Party (SDSS). Dzurinda, who is also Vice-Chairman of the KDH, will hold the decisive vote.

The SDK's new strategy came under immediate fire from Mečiar. Speaking at his HZDS's regular monthly rally at Pasienky on April 2, Mečiar told the crowd that "the SDK is to be for one reason and one use like a plastic cup or toilet paper," and added thatthe SDK's newly-proclaimed unity was suspect. "We have to send them all to hell during the elections," he said.

In a calmer mood on March 25, Mečiar had told an international press conference in Bratislava that "Slovakia's problem is not the opposition, but the fact that the opposition is weak. Every good fight needs a strong opponent."

Dzurinda conceded that "the Prime Minister is right, for once but I'm setting out to make the opposition strong. The positive fact is that Vladimír Mečiar will now have an equal partner to have discussions with."

The quest for unity among SDK members had been fraught with difficult decisions. After the coalition registered on March 10 with the Interior Ministry as a single party, the three minor member parties had to decide whether to dissolve their identities and join the SDK, or leave the coalition and risk not passing the 5-percent barrier for Parliamentary representation. Even harder decisions faced the members of the larger KDH and DU, who on their own had a safe ticket to Parliament, but who were also asked to leave their parties and register as SDK candidates.

"Great steps are not easily taken. There are many personalities within the SDK and making strong personalities toe the same line is not easy," conceded Dzurinda, referring to the fact that among SDK leaders are two former prime ministers, two former vice-premiers, one former speaker of parliament and ten former government ministers. "[But] things that come less easily last for longer," Dzurinda added.

In the end, all SDK member parties agreed that if the government's election bill passed, as it is expected to in May, they would unite as one party for at least the duration of the election campaign. DS Chairman Ján Langoš told the daily SME on March 26 that "we are pleased that KDH and DU agreed and if the new non-democratic election bill is passed, we'll be able to react by making one political party."

The compromise did produce one notable casualty, namely KDH Chairman Ján Čarnogurský, who said that if the election bill passed, he would not abandon his party. "After the SDK decision to enter the election as one party, to be on the SDK's candidate list I'd have to withdraw from KDH," said Čarnogurský, who established the KDH in the spring of 1990 and has been its chairman ever since.

"I find it just unimaginable, as KDH Chairman, to withdraw from the movement," Čarnogurský said, insisting that his decision implied no rift between the KDH and the SDK, and that he would continue to support and promote the SDK.

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