AFTER YEARS of leading the field, former PM Vladimír Mečiar's opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) fell to second place in a recent survey of voter preferences ahead of upcoming general elections.
The HZDS, which at times in the 1990s held over 30 per cent support, fell to 18.1 per cent in early August behind the Smer party of ambitious would-be PM Robert Fico, which scored 18.7 per cent and took the lead for the first time since its 2000 birth.
While the HZDS' support had fallen dramatically in July to under 20 per cent following the formation of a breakaway faction, the Movement for Democracy (HZD), it was not until this month's Focus agency poll that the party lost its leadership outright.
While the results will be warmly received in western countries, whose officials have warned a return of the authoritarian HZDS to power could foul Slovakia's entry to the European and Nato, they were dismissed by HZDS officials as lacking credibility.
HZDS officials said polls indicating a dramatic decrease in the party's popularity were the result of manipulation by polling agencies.
Ján Kovarčík, HZDS vice-chairman for media policy, said in reaction to the August 27 Focus poll that the objectivity of such polls was doubtful because of their "unclear methods of gathering information". He suggested the number and structure of poll respondents could be manipulated to produce the desired results.
A steep drop in the party's fortunes, however, had earlier been suggested by results from other renowned polling agencies.
Analysts have speculated that the HZDS has been hurt by the defections of long-time Mečiar faithfuls such as former speaker of parliament Ivan Gašparovič to the HZD party last month.
Another possible reason for the drop, analysts suggested, was the recent arrest of Ivan Lexa, a member of parliament for the HZDS and former chief of the state secret service (SIS).
Lexa, who for two years had been an international fugitive, was apprehended in South Africa July 14 and deported to Slovakia to face 10 charges including sabotage and alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of the former president's son, Michal Kováč Jr.
- Martina Pisárová.
2. Sep 2002 at 0:00