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EDITORIAL

A liberal party for Slovakia?

DESPITE the liberal orientation of many Slovak voters, the current political landscape in the country is marked by an absence of a truly liberal party.
Throughout recent history, a number of different parties have tried to be the champion of liberals. However, a new party at each election seems to have been the rule for the non-conservative, non-nationalist, non-communist and non-clerical voter.

DESPITE the liberal orientation of many Slovak voters, the current political landscape in the country is marked by an absence of a truly liberal party.

Throughout recent history, a number of different parties have tried to be the champion of liberals. However, a new party at each election seems to have been the rule for the non-conservative, non-nationalist, non-communist and non-clerical voter.

The 1990 general election, the first free elections after decades of communist oppression, brought victory to Public Against Violence (VPN) - a widely popular, but greatly heterogeneous ensemble of revolutionaries, dissidents, 'reformed communists' and liberal intellectuals.

The party gained nearly a third of the 150 seats in the Slovak legislature.

The VPN's inner disputes, initially silenced by the euphoria characteristic of revolutionary times, gradually surfaced.

In 1991, following a power-struggle within the movement, a large portion of its members led by Vladimír Mečiar, the man whose undemocratic ruling methods later led Slovakia into international isolation and brought its integration ambitions to a halt, left, and launched the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

In the 1992 elections the HZDS enjoyed an overwhelming victory, stopping just two votes short of gaining a majority in the Slovak parliament. At the time, Mečiar was at the peak of his popularity and was the man of choice for many liberally-oriented voters.

As Mečiar's autocratic and totalitarian tendencies would fully come to light only in the years to come, other parties that made it into parliament in those elections definitely seemed less attractive.

There was the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the socialist Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) and a coalition of right-wing Hungarian parties.

By the 1994 preliminary elections the true face of Mečiar had become clear to most liberals and supporting him was no longer an option. Instead the Democratic Union (DÚ) seemed a feasible alternative.

The DÚ was formed by HZDS renegades who, in the spring of 1994, staged an internal coup in the party leading to the collapse of Mečiar's government and to the creation of an interim administration headed by DÚ boss Jozef Moravčík.

The DÚ did gain 15 seats in parliament in the elections in the fall of 1994, but Mečiar's HZDS emerged victorious taking 61 parliamentary seats.

The HZDS formed a ruling coalition with the nationalist SNS and the ultra-left Union of Slovak Workers, which ran the country until parliamentary elections in September 1998.

The primary aim of those elections was to oust Mečiar from office. Six parties besides the HZDS made it to parliament that time around.

Two of them had a clear ideology - the leftist SDĽ, and the nationalist SNS.

In addition, there was the centrist and ideology-free Civic Understanding Party, formed shortly before the elections by future president Rudolf Schuster, and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), a union of Christian Democrats, liberals and nationalists.

Finally, there was the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), which in many ways resembled the VPN of the early 1990s.

It was a coalition of Christian Democrats, the liberal DÚ, many of whose members were former communists, and the politically less influential conservative Democratic Party (DS), the Greens, and the Social Democrats.The eclectic combination was a natural result of the Mečiar threat and his tough election legislation, and was the best choice for Slovak liberals at the time.

The SDK finished second in the election race, but since the victorious HZDS proved unable to form a ruling coalition, the task of forming a government was left up to SDK leader Mikuláš Dzurinda, and the SDK in effect became the strongest political force in the country.

However, the SDK followed VPN's fate and its shaky ideological foundations crumbled under the weight of power.

One part of the KDH withdrew from the political union, and another, headed by PM Mikuláš Dzurinda and his long-term political ally, joined forces with the DÚ and formed the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).

The SDKÚ, according to the party's statues, saw its role as "achieving the political cooperation of all people of good will, especially Christian Democrats and liberals" - a rather untraditional combination. But the SDKÚ was not the only quasi-liberal party that ran in the 2002 elections. Another was the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), founded by power-hungry media mogul and current Economics Minister Pavol Rusko. Initial media reports indicated that Rusko would launch a socialist party. Only later did he change his mind and the end-result was a party working under the banner of liberalism.

Both parties made it into parliament and became part of the ruling coalition after the 2002 elections.

However, both have had their share of problems ever since. A group led by vice-chairman Ivan Šimko left the SDKÚ to start the Free Forum (SF). According to the SF statutes, the SF was a created as a movement of "Christian Democrats, conservatives, and liberals", and it can therefore be anticipated that it will fight for liberal votes in the upcoming elections.

ANO has lost several MPs and its popular support seems to be on the decline. In 2002 ANO gained 8 percent. In the elections for the European Parliament (EP), held in June of this year, ANO received 4.7 percent and will be the only ruling party not to have any representative in the EP. Some ANO insiders have long complained that with Rusko busy running the Economics Ministry, the party has lost clear leadership and steam.

If history is anything to go by, a new party will be fighting for liberal votes at the next elections in two years' time.

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