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LIBERALS NOT CONSIDERING MERGER WITH OTHER PARTIES

ANO sticks together

THE RULING New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) will stay united and no more deputies will be quitting the liberal party's parliamentary caucus, ANO chairman Pavol Rusko announced after a recent meeting of ANO leaders.
The meeting was called in order for the party to regroup itself following the elections to the European Parliament (EP) in which the liberals suffered a fiasco by not gaining a single seat in Brussels.

THE RULING New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) will stay united and no more deputies will be quitting the liberal party's parliamentary caucus, ANO chairman Pavol Rusko announced after a recent meeting of ANO leaders.

The meeting was called in order for the party to regroup itself following the elections to the European Parliament (EP) in which the liberals suffered a fiasco by not gaining a single seat in Brussels.

The people involved in the failure faced no consequences, however. The head of the ANO's candidate list for the EP, Jozef Heriban, did not even take part in the meeting because he was away on holidays in Venice.

Rusko did not want to comment on the failure in the EP elections either.

"These are our internal affairs and we don't want to discuss them in public," said Rusko.

"We are in the first half of the election term of the current coalition. We scored on our own net in the form of the unsuccessful elections in the EP, but it does not mean that we will resign for the second half of the running."

The meeting was also expected to draw up proposals to address the party's alarmingly low voter preferences.

In the autumn of 2002, the ANO scored only 8 percent support in the national elections and has gradually lost voters since, hitting a new low in May this year of only 3.9 percent. In order to get to parliament, parties must gain at least 5 percent voter support. Even in July the party would have been unelectable as it had 4.9 percent support according to a regular poll carried out by the Statistics office.

According to the outcome of the meeting, the ANO will prepare a strategy that will, among other things, oversee a more effective system of media communication and the public's perception of the liberals. The ANO recently hired a new head of their press department, Juraj Puchý, the former head of office with the National Security Office, in whom the party sees a promise of improved media image.

Contrary to previously published information, Rusko denied that the ANO was considering merging with some of the existing right-wing parties, stating that the ANO was determined to be active as an independent liberal party.

"No mergers or unifications were ever the theme of the day," said Rusko.

The ANO chairman emerged smiling from the liberal meeting, declaring that "there is no split; no one is going anywhere".

Prior to the meeting, the Slovak media reported rumours that some ANO MPs, such as Eva Černá and Beata Brestenská, were considering leaving the party.

Both MPs later denied the information. Černá was one of the ANO's candidates for the EP and before the meeting she said that she hoped that the party meeting would be able to "identify the things that were done wrong".

After the meeting Černá was convinced that it had achieved its goal.

Ľubomír Lintner, deputy chairman of the ANO, stated, "I can now say that there is no following behind MP Černá that has any intentions of leaving the party."

Černá told journalists that she was satisfied with how the party "openly discussed the problematic issues".

"For the future we set out the steps that need to be taken so as not to repeat similar bad decisions," Černá said.

The ANO plans to devise consequent liberal politics that should also include a clearer opposition to the proposals of the ANO's conservative ruling partner, the Christian Democrats.

According to Černá, the ANO has plenty of ideas to offer, including proposals related to health reform and issues related to the business environment that fell under the agenda of the Economy Ministry led by Rusko himself.

Since the start of the current election term in the autumn of 2002, a total of five MPs left the party. Some of them became independent MPs or entered new parties, while others left politics for good. The ANO currently has 11 members.

Political analyst Ľubomír Kubín from the Slovak Academy of Sciences thinks, however, that the ANO's caucus may split even more in the future.

"All people in the ANO leadership were personally hand-picked by Rusko. It is a one-man party, and as already seen with some of the former ANO MPs revolting against the one-man regime, more such cases may appear in the future," Kubín said.

Kubín also has his doubts about Rusko having much success with his idea to foster independent liberal policies.

"The national elections showed that the ANO is not a true liberal party and that Rusko is not a liberal man, although he can still formally act in opposition to the Christian Democrats," said Kubín.

The ANO's low support has recently lead some observers to compare the party with the former ruling Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP), lead by the ex-president Rudolf Schuster.

The party was created shortly before the 1998 national elections and was widely seen as a tool to help SOP chairman Schuster gain the presidential seat, which it did. SOP, however, only lasted the one four year term. Some analysts still think ANO might see a similar end.

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