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THE STATUTES OF THE STILL-YOUNG SMER PARTY LEAVE MUCH OF THE POWER WITH THE FOUNDING MEMBERS

Fico keeps firm grip on his own party

ROBERT Fico, the leader of the opposition Smer party, has never hidden his ambition to become the country's prime minister. Furthermore, as the Smer party statutes imply, he makes sure that his position in his own party is not easy to challenge.
The Slovak Spectator has found that Smer's party statues make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass decisions against the will of the party boss.
According to the statutes, the congress is the party's supreme body. It is made up of two categories of members: delegates from the ranks of ordinary members and the so-called "founding members".

ROBERT Fico, the leader of the opposition Smer party, has never hidden his ambition to become the country's prime minister. Furthermore, as the Smer party statutes imply, he makes sure that his position in his own party is not easy to challenge.

The Slovak Spectator has found that Smer's party statues make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass decisions against the will of the party boss.

According to the statutes, the congress is the party's supreme body. It is made up of two categories of members: delegates from the ranks of ordinary members and the so-called "founding members".

The congress can only deliberate if a majority of both regular members' delegates and founding members are present. In order to pass a proposal at the congress, the majority of the founding members and the majority of regular members' delegates must be in its favour.

Facts about the founding members cannot be disclosed, according to party representatives.

"I will certainly not tell you numbers or names, because that's internal information," said Peter Repák, assistant to party general manager and Smer MP Igor Federič. The Slovak Spectator was unable to reach Federič himself.

"The founding members come from the ranks of the party's preparatory committee, which existed under the law on political parties before the party itself was established. It is an honorary position granted to individuals for their merits," Repák added.

Besides Fico, the known members of the preparatory committee included Iveta Lišková and Martin Hamid. None of them is in parliament today.

Fico, who got into parliament in the September 1998 parliamentary elections on the ballot of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), where he had been a vice-chairman, founded Smer in November 1999.

From the party's very inception, he has been its most visible figure, which was reinforced by Fico's position as the party's only representative in parliament until 2002.

Repák did admit that, "in theory", founding members have significant decision-making rights.

"I'm sure it will be abolished over time. It's an honorary position. Don't look for anything else behind it," he said. The statutes have been amended twice since the party's establishment in 1999, yet founding members still remain included in the document.

The party statutes do not say how the delegates of regular members are selected. They only say that the issue is governed by the party's organizational order. Repák and Smer spokeswoman Silvia Glendová have both stated that that document is of an internal nature and cannot be disclosed.

However, Glendová said that the party's presidency decides on the number of delegates that each district will send to participate in the congress. The party's district councils, according to the Smer spokesperson, then elect these delegates.

The president-appointed district chairman heads those district councils, and proposes candidates for district council members.

However, not all is ruled by the party presidency, say insiders.

"[District organization members] can, up to a certain point, propose their own candidates [for district council members]. So it's not only up to the district chairman," said Repák.

The presidency is elected by the congress and its powers include not only the appointing of district and regional chairmen, but also deciding on candidates for parliamentary elections and elections into the European Parliament, based on proposals put forward by the party chairman.

The Slovak Spectator has learned from knowledgeable sources that Fico has strongly opposed efforts within the party to create a youth organization for Smer supporters.

Smer MP Edita Angyalová, who, at 24, is one of the youngest legislators, has confirmed that she and her parliamentary colleague Robert Madej have come up with the idea of creating a youth branch and presented it within the party.

"We are discussing it and I'm pleased with the way the talks are going," she told The Slovak Spectator.

"It is important to say that Smer has existed for only around four years and every party has to go through a certain development. It takes some time before a party enters a stage in which the existence of a youth organization would not interfere with the other aims that the party follows," said Angyalová.

"It is good if the youth organization represents certain internal opposition, but does not create unnecessary conflicts. It has happened in the past that the youth organizations broke away and went in a completely different direction," she added.

However, Angyalová said that the party, which has governmental ambitions, might gradually enter a stage in which a youth organization would be acceptable.

"I think Smer can slowly get there. It's not a question of us not wanting to, but a question of the party's short history," she said.

Smer spokesperson Glendová and general manager's assistant Repák said they do not have the necessary information to comment on the issue of the youth organization.

Experts say that, at this time, the current Smer leadership does not need to worry about any internal opposition.

"At the moment, Fico is in a very strong position. I don't expect there will be any attempts to challenge his party leadership anytime soon," said political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Public Affairs' Institute.

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