PRIME Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda is in a rather knotty situation after his former ally, Ivan Šimko, announced he will only support the ruling coalition if Dzurinda leaves his seat.
There are numerous courses of development the current situation might take.
Option one - give Šimko what he wants and leave office.
Dzurinda currently heads the largest ruling party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), which has the right to nominate its representative to the top governmental seat.
Šimko, on the other hand, heads what would be the smallest of all coalition parties, which currently doesn't even have enough MPs to have its own parliamentary caucus.
If Dzurinda gives in to Šimko's demand, other coalition parties will rightly wonder why a party the size of Šimko's Free Forum (SF), which has not gained the mandate of voters in elections and has only been in existence for a couple of days, can dictate who will and who will not head the government.
Political tactics that resemble blackmail could then become the standard, which certainly wouldn't help the Slovak political scene, which is already significantly distorted.
Anyone within the SDKÚ who may be inclined to replace the PM in order to make sure the party stays in power must be aware that forcing Dzurinda out based on the demands of a political dwarf will make the party appear extremely weak and a likely victim of future attacks.
So far, Dzurinda has done all he can to tighten his grip on the SDKÚ. He is unlikely to change his priorities now.
Although there has been some speculation that the PM could become Slovakia's representative in the European Commission, which would offer him a good exit route, it is a long shot.
That position would ensure Dzurinda a safe political future for at least the next five years, which is more than he can hope for at home. But even if the ruling coalition and the European Commission approved his nomination, Dzurinda himself has never mentioned that he is interested in the job and may be reluctant to leave a strong position he can still hope to save.
Option two - offer Šimko a seat in government and make him a part of the coalition.
This alternative is supported by the Christian Democrats and from the start of the conflict seemed to offer the most reasonable solution. The SF would get its share of power and responsibilities in exchange for the support of its MPs, which even Dzurinda must acknowledge is important for the future of the government.
Unfortunately, both Dzurinda and Šimko seem to find this solution unacceptable. From the start of this crisis Dzurinda has said that no cabinet seats are vacant and Šimko to this day claims that the SF is not interested in nominating a minister.
It would perhaps be a painful sign of weakness if Dzurinda takes back what he has been saying throughout the last month, but the truth is he has never been weaker.
However, it would currently not be enough to offer Šimko a ministerial seat. Dzurinda would perhaps have to convince him to take it, which could be a little bit too much for the PM to swallow.
Option three - look for support elsewhere.
In theory, the SF is not the only party that could help the coalition regain a majority in parliament. There are four other opposition parties represented in the legislature - Smer, the Communist Party, the People's Union, and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).
Smer is an unlikely ally. The party is currently the most popular party by far and its success is driven exclusively by discontent with the government. Smer boss Robert Fico has nothing to gain by teaming up with people he has repeatedly accused of corruption and cronyism.
The Communist Party, with its extremist left wing ideology, is not a partner for the current reformist, right wing government. Such cooperation would be unacceptable for voters and politicians on both sides.
The People's Union is a party with no popular support that made it into government on the back of the HZDS. Its representatives are mostly people connected to some of the greatest scandals of Mečiar's rule, although time has taken its toll and, thanks to the relatively charitable attitude of the media, these individuals have become tolerated by most of the public.
In an effort to find some sort of a political identity, the People's Union has recently begun to collaborate with nationalistic parties but still fails to present a clear agenda to the voters.
Most of its members are well aware that, barring a miracle, their political careers will end with the next elections, so they might be tempted to support the government rather than face the threat of confronting the voters.
No official negotiations have started yet and leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party Béla Bugár has ruled out such collaboration, because of the People's Union's inclination towards Slovak nationalist parties.
Then there is the HZDS. Thanks to the impotence of two Dzurinda cabinets, not only has Mečiar's past never been properly investigated, it has been forgotten. The man himself seems to have changed and it would not be too difficult to sell a deal with the HZDS to the voters.
The question again remains whether all coalition partners, some of whom have had fierce clashes with Mečiar in the past, would agree.
Option four - ignore the problems and hope things work out.
Although this is Dzurinda's favourite tactic, it will not work this time. An ignored Šimko will certainly use the first opportunity to vote against cabinet legislation, if not in favour of recalling one of its members.
Moreover, others could soon start looking for ways of ruling without Dzurinda.
The one option Dzurinda cannot even begin to consider is early elections, which can bring him nothing but failure.
19. Jan 2004 at 0:00