New opposition party widens popularity gap as SOP skyrockets

A new supernova in the Slovak political sky, the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), widened the gap of support between Premier Vladimír Mečiar's coalition government and the opposition. However, the SOP reduced the strength of the strongest opposition body, the SDK, by stealing about 7-9 percent of their voters.
An opinion poll carried out by the renowned MVK agency between February 26 - March 3 suggested that combined support for anti-Mečiar parties stood at 61 percent compared with just 31 percent for the governing triumvirate of Mečiar's HZDS, the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS). In MVK's November 1997 survey, support for the opposition stood at 54 percent while the government's was the same at 31.

A new supernova in the Slovak political sky, the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), widened the gap of support between Premier Vladimír Mečiar's coalition government and the opposition. However, the SOP reduced the strength of the strongest opposition body, the SDK, by stealing about 7-9 percent of their voters.

An opinion poll carried out by the renowned MVK agency between February 26 - March 3 suggested that combined support for anti-Mečiar parties stood at 61 percent compared with just 31 percent for the governing triumvirate of Mečiar's HZDS, the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS). In MVK's November 1997 survey, support for the opposition stood at 54 percent while the government's was the same at 31.

The change was brought about by the SOP, which secured 14.8 percent of support. Established last month by Rudolf Schuster, the Mayor of Košice and a former Czechoslovak ambassador to Canada, and Pavol Hamžík, a former Slovak foreign minister, the SOP claims it will act as a mediator of civic reconciliation, introducing a new style and method of doing business to the Slovak political scene.

According to MVK Director Pavel Haulík, the largest reservoir of SOP votes was the strongest opposition grouping, the SDK. "It's very possible that apart from the pool of non-voters and undecided, the SOP drained the most votes from the SDK," he said.

Shortly after establishing his party, Schuster stated publicly that apart from Mečiar's HZDS, the SOP was willing to cooperate with any party. It was somewhat surprising, then, that the newcomer stole most of its support from Mečiar's arch-rival.

Mikuláš Dzurinda, the SDK leader, could hardly hide his bitterness when commenting on the poll's results. "It is very popular to pretend that both guys are fighters, and I am their arbitrator," he said for SME daily, referring to the implacable antagonism between Mečiar's coalition and the opposition, which provided the leverage for the SOP's leap into third place overall.

But Haulík said that the SOP stole about 3.5 percent from the HZDS, too. "About 25 percent of SOP supporters were HZDS voters in 1994," he said.

The SDK still preserved its lead with 23.5 percent, but is now closely followed by the HZDS with 23.2 percent. After Parliamentary elections, the President authorizes the party that gathered the most votes to try to form a government. Only when it fails in this task does the second strongest party take over the responsibility.

Three other parties would get over the 5-percent threshold to be represented in Parliament - the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), the reformed communists, with 11.7 percent; the Hungarian Coalition (MK), a grouping of three ethnic Hungarian parties, with 10.7 percent; and the SNS with 5.8 percent.


Slovak Voting Preferences

Party
March 1998November 1997Differential
SDK23.532.4-8.9
HZDS23.220.5+2.7
SOP14.8non-existent+14.8
SDĽ11.712.5-0.8
MK10.78.8+1.9
SNS5.87.1-1.3
================
KSS3.13.2-0.1
ZRS2.42.9-0.5
KSÚ1.22.4-1.2

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