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DEPARTURE OF EDUCATION MINISTER MILAN FTÁČNIK LEADS TO CALLS FOR SDĽ LEADER KONCOŠ' RESIGNATION

SDĽ consumed by internal strife

THE DEPARTURE of Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik from the ruling coalition Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) last week marked a new low for the former communists, and brought an appeal from party ranks to SDĽ leader Pavol Koncoš to resign.
Ftáčnik became the third prominent SDĽ figure to abandon the party in two months, following former Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová and SDĽ founder Peter Weiss. All three complained that Koncoš was leading the SDĽ towards more hard-line, orthodox socialist policies.
With party support among the electorate at 3.3 per cent, after reaching over 14 per cent in 1998 elections, internal dissent has begun to tear the SDĽ apart. On April 3, a regional party branch from Senec appealed to Koncoš to quit in order to save the party.


SDĽ PARTY leader Koncoš (rear) faced calls for his resignation after the departure of Milan Ftáčnik (inset).
photo: TASR

THE DEPARTURE of Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik from the ruling coalition Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) last week marked a new low for the former communists, and brought an appeal from party ranks to SDĽ leader Pavol Koncoš to resign.

Ftáčnik became the third prominent SDĽ figure to abandon the party in two months, following former Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová and SDĽ founder Peter Weiss. All three complained that Koncoš was leading the SDĽ towards more hard-line, orthodox socialist policies.

With party support among the electorate at 3.3 per cent, after reaching over 14 per cent in 1998 elections, internal dissent has begun to tear the SDĽ apart. On April 3, a regional party branch from Senec appealed to Koncoš to quit in order to save the party.

"The appeals to Koncoš to resign are an expression of the confusion and helplessness of the remaining party members. They are evidence of the chaos that has ruled the party since its top people left," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava.

Koncoš, however, appears to have dug in his heels, blaming the party's low support on the compromises it has been forced to make as part of a wide-spectrum government coalition.

Taking out a full-page ad in the daily paper Pravda on March 28, and using the space to expound his views in a scripted interview, Koncoš stressed the need to pursue more hard-line leftist policies. "In its effort to keep the coalition stable the SDĽ made too many concessions," he said.

The SDĽ leader has also fought hard to have Ftáčnik ousted as Education Minister, arguing that according to an agreement between the five ruling coalition parties the seat belongs to the SDĽ.

Ftáčnik has joined Weiss' Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) party, which claims to practice more 'modern' leftist politics.

"It's unthinkable that one party would support a member of another political party in its cabinet post," said Koncoš.

The SDĽ's Republican Council, a senior party body, agreed on April 3 to decide Ftáčnik's fate as minister on April 14.


Indefensible


Mesežnikov said that the roots of the party's current crisis went deep into its past: "The departures of quality party figures show that several years of personal and political conflicts within the SDĽ have reached a climax."

Ftáčnik said on March 26 that he was leaving because "the SDĽ does a brand of politics which I don't understand and cannot defend."

Criticism of the SDĽ leadership also came from other high ranking party officials. Ladislav Orosz, one of the party's four vice chairmen, recently said that the SDĽ seemed unsure of whom it wanted to address with its policies, and that the party needed "new faces".

SDĽ central secretary Pavel Richter said on March 28: "I'd be lying if I denied that a certain amount of unhappiness exists among the party rank and file."

The appeal from the Senec SDĽ branch to Koncoš stressed that "the party is in a deep crisis from which it can only escape by taking radical and speedy measures."

Mesežnikov said that the SDĽ leadership - before Koncoš the party was led by Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš - had chosen what proved to be a self-destructive political strategy, that of attacking its coalition partners.

"The SDĽ's lack of loyalty to the cabinet of which it was a part, and its frequent role as instigator of conflicts in the cabinet, contributed to the party's dramatic fall," the analyst said, adding that the election of Koncoš to the leadership in November 2001 had been "a fatal mistake".

But while Koncoš has been very critical of the SDA's Weiss, whom he called a "brave child of the Marxism-Leninism Institute", the SDĽ leader has also suggested closer ties, saying that "leftist parties are condemned to co-operate."

The call for co-operation between leftist parties has been taken up by hard-core SDĽ members such as Deputy Prime Minister for Legislation Ľubomír Fogaš and member of parliament Ľubomír Andrassy.

"Everyone who cares about the left must now think hard about what to do before the parliamentary elections," said Andrassy.

Weiss's SDA scored 3.1 per cent voter support in the same March 2002 MVK agency survey that gave the SDĽ 3.3 per cent. Parties must score at least five per cent in September's elections to secure seats in parliament.

Miroslav Kusý, a political science professor with Comenius University in Bratislava, said that "the only way for the two parties to get into parliament in September is by forming a coalition".

But the SDA so far has given no sign of being swayed, with Weiss saying his goal was to unite disappointed SDĽ voters with former ruling coalition Civic Understanding Party (SOP) and Social Democratic Party (SDSS) supporters.

For Mesežnikov, expecting Weiss or Ftáčnik to co-operate "with the very party which expelled them from its ranks is completely illogical".

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