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SDKÚ AND HZDS CONSIDER TEAMING UP FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS

Political foes get cosy

A DESIRE for political gain has made strange bedfellows of two national enemies, resulting in an unlikely potential coalition between ruling and opposition parties on the local level - just in time for municipal elections.
Members from both the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SKDÚ) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) have admitted to participating in talks to create a unified coalition on the local level.

A DESIRE for political gain has made strange bedfellows of two national enemies, resulting in an unlikely potential coalition between ruling and opposition parties on the local level - just in time for municipal elections.

Members from both the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SKDÚ) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) have admitted to participating in talks to create a unified coalition on the local level.

However, the party leaders - Mikuláš Dzurinda of the SKDÚ and three-time ex-PM Vladimír Mečiar of the opposition HZDS - deny such plans.

Among those who have admitted to cooperation between the SKDÚ and the HZDS on the local level are Peter Miššík of the SDKÚ, and Milan Urbáni, the HZDS deputy chairman.

But both men suggested that preliminary talks to join forces to improve their respective party's position in municipal elections was routine among political groups.

The news of a potential SDKÚ-HZDS coalition in municipal elections has angered the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which is part of the national ruling coalition with SDKÚ.

SMK Chairman Béla Bugár believes that the only reason for a potential SDKÚ-HZDS alliance on a local level is to block the SMK from winning in its traditional strongholds.

Bugár criticized the potential alliance, saying that it would unfairly exclude his party from municipal power in the south, where its support is strongest.

"We are not pleased to see that our partners in the ruling coalition are thinking about a possible coalition with opposition parties against the SMK in terms of the VÚC [higher territorial units] elections. It is not good at all," said Bugár.

Urbáni told The Slovak Spectator that the notion that the SDKÚ and the HZDS are plotting to remove the SMK from power is a figment of "Bugár's paranoia".

"Nobody is excluded from the talks. I am glad when any party expresses interest in talks with the HZDS," he said.

Just a few years ago, such cooperation between the SDKÚ and the HZDS would have been impossible. The first Dzurinda cabinet rose to power in 1998 after uniting opposition parties against Mečiar.

Pavel Hrušovský, the chairman of another ruling party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), declared that the KDH "will not create any deliberate coalitions against any political party, including the SMK".

He added, however, that the KDH was planning to join a coalition of other parties to boost its chances in the municipal elections. He did not exclude the possibility that the KDH would join the SDKÚ and the HZDS, saying that it would be up to his party to decide.

"I don't see anything wrong with [ruling and opposition parties joining forces]. It's not a betrayal of our national coalition partners when new alliances are created on the regional level," he said.

Still, Hrušovský admitted that the relationship between KDH and HZDS was "complicated".

According to observers, PM Dzurinda has made several statements that suggest his attitude towards the HZDS and Mečiar has changed. Several times over the past year, Dzurinda has said that he "appreciated" the HZDS position on Slovakia's integration into the EU and NATO.

In the referendum to secure Slovakia's entry into the EU, the cooperation of various rival electoral groups, including the SDKÚ and the HZDS, was crucial. But Dzurinda insists that he and Mečiar have no specific plans for future cooperation.

After the October 19 meeting between the two men regarding Slovakia's position on Turkey as an EU member, Dzurinda said that he had no reason to change any of his past criticisms of Mečiar, according to the SITA news agency.

Nevertheless, Dzurinda did say that he would meet with Mečiar whenever the interests of the country required it.

Ľuboš Kubín, a political analyst from the Slovak Academy of Sciences, described the former relationship between the SDKÚ and the HZDS as "bullet-proof political blocks". But now he thinks that the two are indeed planning to get closer, with the municipal elections serving as a test of how the electorate would react to such a union.

"The regional [elections] aspect is merely a certain attempt to create a test field in order to see how the voters will perceive such a [coalition]," Kubín said.

"The leadership is already in favour of shaking up historical party affiliations but it is still unclear how the voters will take it," he said.

The HZDS, and especially Mečiar, still attracts voter support. In the most recent public opinion poll carried out by the Slovak statistical office, the HZDS scored the second highest at 14 percent, with the opposition Smer leading with more than 28 percent.

Political commentator Dag Daniš of the daily Pravda agrees with Kubín. He thinks that the cooperation between the SDKÚ and the HZDS on the regional level indicates something is afoot on the national level, especially between the party leaders.

"Mečiar and Dzurinda are especially interested in this alliance. Their cooperation ahead of the regional elections, by the way, is not some new breakthrough. Rather, it is a fulfilment of an older scenario based on the rehabilitation of Mečiar, and the isolation of [Smer leader Robert] Fico," Daniš wrote in an October 19 commentary.

Since the HZDS is not excluding any party, including Smer or the SMK, from coalition-building talks on the regional level, it is difficult to accuse the HZDS of unfairness.

That did not stop Slovak media in Nitra from speculating that any future SDKÚ-HZDS cooperation would have to call itself the "white coalition" to reflect that it lacked the largely-ethnic SMK.

"Journalists and everybody else must get used to the new reality. There have been certain developments and progress, and strong parties with sometimes conflicting views must join together if we want to achieve something," HZDS Deputy Chairman Urbáni told The Slovak Spectator.

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