THE ACTIONS of former PM and failed presidential candidate Vladimír Mečiar in the immediate future may have a decisive impact not only on his own political career, but on overall developments on the domestic political scene.
Music has accompanied Mečiar throughout his political career.
His success in the 1994 general elections was based in great part on the hit single Vivat Slovakia, in which he and his ensemble of close associates from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), later intelligence service boss Ivan Lexa and current president-elect Ivan Gašparovič among them, sang of a Slovakia "forever free of grudges". The motto of the campaign was "the HZDS, in perfect harmony".
Later, at the height of his power, Mečiar sometimes opened the meetings of his cabinet with a cheerful tune.
Few can forget his memorable appearance on state TV following the elections, his last in the top administrative seat, when tears rolled down his cheeks as he sang "With God I'm leaving you, without having done any harm to any one of you."
For the first time ever the nation got to see a broken and hurt Mečiar, unable to deal with his defeat.
This month, Mečiar offered Slovaks a similar spectacle, as he walked out of the HZDS headquarters on the morning after presidential elections. Not saying a word to journalists standing by, Mečiar only whistled as he walked to his car, which drove him to attend the first in a series of talk shows with his defeater, Ivan Gašparovič. When later asked what he had been whistling, he replied "a march".
Throughout the day, Mečiar failed to hide the fact that he had been crushed by the unexpected outcome of the presidential race.
He had suffered yet another blow and the HZDS has, once again, lost its perfect harmony.
The main focus should now be on two questions - first, whether Mečiar will be able to shake off the defeat and get in shape for yet another comeback, and secondly, whether the HZDS is on the brink of yet another division.
In 1998, Mečiar limited his public appearances and gave up his seat in parliament, where former intelligence service boss Ivan Lexa replaced him. Even that move did not help Lexa escape criminal prosecution for the intelligence agency's misdoings under his leadership.
Mečiar was unable to cope with the political reality that he was out of power. Nonetheless, he came back and, in 1999, ran for president in Slovakia's first direct elections, only to be defeated by the ruling coalition's common candidate, Rudolf Schuster, who is now leaving office.
Mečiar shrugged off the results by claiming he never really wanted to win, arguing that his candidacy was only meant to lift low spirits in the ranks of his own party and mobilise its supporters.
The 2002 elections again left Mečiar's HZDS in opposition. Those results were in no way surprising, as Mečiar could never have realistically hoped to get into government just weeks before crucial decisions about the country's EU and NATO membership were to be made.
Both institutions had repeatedly made it very clear that if the country wanted in, Mečiar had to stay out of government. After those elections, Mečiar changed his political strategy. He entered parliament, started talking to journalists more, and seemed to cooperate with the coalition in some aspects.
He even attended a common event in support of the EU referendum a year ago along with former President Michal Kováč, a man whose son had been kidnapped in a plot in which Mečiar had been implicated, and PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, whom he had ignored in the past.
There was considerable pressure coming from within his own party to end the zero-coalition-potential curse. The HZDS badly needed to become an acceptable political partner. Mečiar gave in to that pressure, especially after he realised the strategy could win him the presidential seat.
So the public started seeing a friendly Mečiar, eager to convince that it was no longer necessary to vote against him and that the HZDS should be seen as an acceptable partner, fit for joining the government, even if he remained in charge.
The presidential elections showed that he was wrong on both counts and that there is most likely nothing that he can ever do to change the fact - voters mobilised to defeat him even though they were in no way instructed to do so.
That showed any political leaders who might have been tempted to close an alliance with Mečiar that voters would hardly forgive or forget such a move. In this respect, the elections meant a double loss for Mečiar.
Another is that the HZDS boss clearly has no intention of consulting fundamental issues of policy and political strategy with others in the party. There was great surprise, even among vice-chairmen of the party, when Mečiar announced that the HZDS would be drifting further away from other opposition parties.
They seemed equally shocked at Mečiar's announcement that he would have nothing to debate with future president Gašparovič. On all those points, Mečiar's party comrades have a different opinion and are not afraid to articulate it.
The developments are always the same - some of the top HZDS representatives get fed up with Mečiar's style of politics and authoritative methods of running the party, come out with their objections, clash with Mečiar loyalists and the leader himself, and leave the party.
The scenario repeated itself in 1994, twice in 2002, and it looks like things may be going down the same road again.
Mečiar cannot be ousted from his top party position because he has strong support among the party members who, in the end, decide about who gets to lead the HZDS. Many of them hold seats in municipal governments thanks to Mečiar's appeal, which will never wear off in some parts of the country. Others just adore the man without hoping for any gain.
There is nothing in Mečiar's political past to indicate that he would step-down on his own.
If Mečiar's opponents in the HZDS act now, they may even hope for a seat in the cabinet. The ruling coalition is still looking for ways to regain a majority in parliament and the task is in no way easy.
Smer has repeatedly stated that it will not join or support this coalition, and the Communists would be unacceptable for the right-wing, mostly Catholic, coalition.
The People's Union has trouble keeping discipline within its own ranks and PM Dzurinda refuses talks with his former colleagues united in the Free Forum.
Now Mečiar has ruled out any form of support for the coalition. Not so his HZDS pals. If they leave the party now and form a solid and unified bloc, they are likely to receive an invitation for talks from Dzurinda.
After all, even Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský reads the results of the presidential elections to mean "it's OK to go with the HZDS, but without Mečiar".
If the future HZDS renegades are smart enough, they will team up with the People's Union and Gašparovič's Movement for Democracy and suddenly this Mečiar-free HZDS could represent a significant political force with a formidable number of MPs and a supportive president.
26. Apr 2004 at 0:00