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THE PRESIDENT-ELECT RETURNS TO BEST MEČIAR, THE MAN WHO ONCE FORCED HIM OUT OF POLITICS

Who is Gašparovič? Another lesser evil?

SLOVAKIA's newly elected president, Ivan Gašparovič, has rejected the claim that his victory over Vladimir Mečiar in the second round of presidential elections was the result of a choice of the lesser of two evils.
During the 1990s, Gašparovič was a true ally of Mečiar, the boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), until the moment Mečiar unexpectedly omitted the party's second most popular man from the candidate list for 2002 parliamentary elections.

SLOVAKIA's newly elected president, Ivan Gašparovič, has rejected the claim that his victory over Vladimir Mečiar in the second round of presidential elections was the result of a choice of the lesser of two evils.

During the 1990s, Gašparovič was a true ally of Mečiar, the boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), until the moment Mečiar unexpectedly omitted the party's second most popular man from the candidate list for 2002 parliamentary elections.

Gašparovič, who served as speaker of parliament under Mečiar's governments, called the July 2002 congress of the HZDS a farce and rejected the offer to run for a post in the European Parliament.

"It is almost like offering someone here an opportunity to run for a position in the United States Congress," Gašparovič said in reaction to the proposed compensation.

As an instant response to his boss' conduct, just two months before the parliamentary elections, Gašparovič established his own party, naming it the Movement for Democracy (HZD). In the first poll released after its formation, the new party registered 5.3 percent popularity, just over the margin required to secure parliamentary representation. However, the HZD failed to make it to parliament in the end. In response, Gašparovič left politics and returned to teaching law.

Though the HZDS recorded an immediate drop in its popularity, Mečiar showed no remorse at filling the empty space Gašparovič left on the candidate list with Diana Dubovská, former wife of business tycoon Jozef Majský, and Eva Antošová, mayor of Nová Dubnica.

"Many see Gašparovič's departure as a split in the HZDS. Mistake. We didn't split. We cleaned our ranks," Mečiar claimed.

During the summer of 2002, Mečiar turned up the heat with comments linking Gašparovič to privatisation scandals "that hurt the HZDS".

"Gašparovič can't expect to leave, copy our name and programme, and stick us with [privatisation] cases that hurt the HZDS," said Mečiar.

However, Mečiar did not drag out any of these scandals during the presidential campaign. When directly asked about them during a television debate on the private TV channel Markíza, he said he would "discuss these things with Ivan in person".

During the communist regime, Gašparovič, born in 1941, taught at the Commenius University Law School. After the Velvet Revolution he served as Czechoslovakia's attorney general until 1992, when he became head of the Slovak legislature.

He remained in that position until October 1998, when the first government of current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda replaced the HZDS-led coalition.

During his presidential campaign, Gašparovič distanced himself from Mečiar and tried to present a new interpretation of his role during the HZDS era, which is seen as a period of wild privatisation and allegedly authoritarian and undemocratic practices that put a stop to the country's integration into the EU and NATO.

"I'm convinced that if the party's leadership had changed at that critical time or if the leader of the HZDS had accepted that we couldn't do everything based on his ideas and his decisions, the HZDS would still be forming the government and it would be the strongest political party," Gašparovič told The Slovak Spectator.

Gašparovič believes that he can rid himself of his label as a Mečiar man. He told the daily SME that he had never had problems negotiating with the international community.

Referring to the news that he and Mečiar had made it to the second round of elections, Gašparovič said that, "if there were any negative responses abroad, I am certain that they did not concern me."

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