DESPITE all the mishaps of the ruling coalition parties, Slovak voters don't need to fear a strong and united opposition just yet.
Relations between the four parties in power - the Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the Christian Democrats (KDH), and the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) - may be strained, but those tensions can hardly match the animosities that exist in the ranks of the opposition, posing a serious obstacle to their future collaboration.
The events of October 13, when opposition representatives met to discuss their anti-government strategy, perfectly illustrate the current state of the country's opposition - talks had to be held in two rounds, because some of the participants could not stand to sit behind one table.
Robert Fico's Smer organised the negotiations. It, with 25 seats, is currently the largest opposition party in parliament, and its popularity with voters is by far the highest out of all Slovak parties, beating the runner-up Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) by over six percent.
Although Smer leader Fico now holds talks with HZDS boss Vladimír Mečiar, the second most popular political figure, their temporary affinity on some issues is only based on sharing a common enemy - the ruling coalition. A couple years ago, fears of Mečiar's return to power united PM Mikulaš Dzurinda's team.
One must not forget that Fico's election campaign before the September 2002 vote was in part based on the motto - "as they stole under [former PM] Mečiar, so they steal under Dzurinda. Vote for Robert Fico."
Fico also accuses Mečiar of collaborating with the government, claiming that the former PM also fears early elections would weaken his position in parliament, and, in an effort to avert a vote, is ready to support even a minority government. Mečiar has in fact not ruled out such an option.
However, the People's Union (ĽÚ), made up of former HZDS members, is likely to be even more scared of elections held in the foreseeable future. Despite having 11 MPs, the party's popular support is so small that it does not even show-up in the results of opinion polls.
Moreover, Mečiar is not a man who forgets betrayal easily, and it was due to his objections that Fico had to meet with ĽÚ separately.
The last parliamentary opposition party is the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS), whose entry into the legislature came as somewhat of a surprise. The KSS would perhaps not mind teaming-up with others, but the unreformed hard-core communists are mostly ignored by the media and other political players.
A look at the ideological background of the opposition parties, although not really a significant indicator in Slovak politics, also shows that common ground may be hard to find.
The KSS represents the extreme left. Smer tries to distance itself from any clearly defined ideology, but Fico's left-wing past and the party's social rhetoric and efforts to gain membership in international leftist organisations indicate that it is slightly to the left.
The HZDS strives to become a people's party, with a mildly right-wing attitude. The ĽÚ currently says the same, but its recent negotiations and plans of collaboration with non-parliamentary nationalistic parties indicate that it may swing much further to the right in an attempt to differentiate itself from other members of the opposition and gain at least some popular support.
At this time, the opposition's inability to unite can only help our society, as it prevents forces that would not offer any considerable alternative to the current right-wing and (almost) democratic government from getting to power.
20. Oct 2003 at 0:00