RUSKO has bankrolled ANO since 2001.
On May 26, former deputy leader and co-founder of ANO, MP Anton Danko, left the party, reportedly calling Rusko's leadership methods "dictatorial". At the congress, there were no signs that others felt the same way.
"Today's congress concluded a certain phase [in the evolution of the party] and confirmed the position of current chairperson Pavol Rusko," said party vice chairman Jirko Malchárek as the congress finished.
ANO was founded by media mogul Rusko, former co-owner and director of TV Markíza, on May 26, 2001, a year and a half ahead of national parliamentary elections. The party gained just over 8 percent in the vote, largely because of Rusko's influence in TV Markíza and his deep pockets.
Rusko is still the main sponsor of ANO, openly contributing Sk36 million (€878,000) to the party in 2002 alone.
Danko's departure and his claims that the party was not keeping its pre-election promises were brushed off by Rusko as insignificant.
"No political party can be completely sure about what sort of people it is admitting, and you always find disloyal and unfair types. They expect to be able to climb up your back into a parliamentary or mayoral seat," said Rusko, who stressed that the absence of Danko would be "no great loss to the party".
Danko said he decided to leave ANO after the party backed a proposal calling for a highway connecting Bratislava with the eastern city of Košice to be built in the south of the country, rather than supporting the completion of the northern route already under construction. Danko is mayor of the northern city of Poprad.
The current ruling coalition has only 78 votes in the 150-member parliament, giving it a very tight majority. Danko was quick to assure coalition politicians that they need not fear the loss of a vote even though he had left ANO.
"I'm not withdrawing my support for the government's policy; I'm withdrawing my support for the party policy of ANO," said Danko.
Danko's departure was not on the agenda of the party congress. At the annual meeting, the election of party leaders proved to be a formality, and all six vice chairpersons proposed by Rusko were elected. Rusko himself did not have a challenger for the top party seat.
In the period leading up to the congress, economy minister and ANO member Robert Nemcsics was being discussed as a possible replacement for Rusko. In the end, all potential candidates decided not to run against Rusko.
"I said clearly that I might be an alternative to Rusko if, for some reason, he could no longer be chairperson. But creating an alternative [while he is still leader] would not be healthy in such a young party, especially while we are in a coalition that has a tight majority in parliament," Nemcsics said in an interview with the daily SME.
However, Nemcsics has not ruled out the possibility of running for the position in the future, and said other senior party members should become more visible.
"We have to think about why, almost a year after the elections, we are a party with one face," said Nemcsics.
An opinion poll released on May 22 by the Public Opinion Research Institute of the Statistics Office shows that Rusko is Slovakia's sixth most trusted politician with 5.9 percent support. No other ANO member is included among the top 20 most trusted politicians in Slovakia.
9. Jun 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila