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SMER DEVOURS ANOTHER FAR-LEFT POLITICAL RIVAL

Left-wing parties unite

THE DEMOCRATIC Left (SDĽ) voted December 4 to disband so it could join popular opposition party Smer. Its objective is to regain the parliamentary influence it lost in 2002 after an internal battle resulted in the defection of several high-standing members.
Based on the merger decision, the SDĽ will dissolve December 31 and all of its 9,500 members will register with Smer on January 1, 2005. Of the 159 SDĽ delegates present at December 4 meeting, 151 supported the merger.


BY UNIFYING, the left-leaning parties of Slovakia are hoping to win the 2006 elections.
photo: TASR

THE DEMOCRATIC Left (SDĽ) voted December 4 to disband so it could join popular opposition party Smer. Its objective is to regain the parliamentary influence it lost in 2002 after an internal battle resulted in the defection of several high-standing members.

Based on the merger decision, the SDĽ will dissolve December 31 and all of its 9,500 members will register with Smer on January 1, 2005. Of the 159 SDĽ delegates present at December 4 meeting, 151 supported the merger.

The SDĽ is the third left-wing party to merge with Smer. In November, both the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS) and the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) fell under Smer leader Robert Fico's spell.

At the heart of the political reshuffling is Fico's plan to win the next parliamentary elections. He believes that by putting the left-wing political scene under a single party umbrella he can build a strong, centre-left movement.

In January 2005, Smer will formerly change its name to Smer - Social Democracy to reflect the recent mergers. According to Fico, the SDĽ's decision marks the completion of the integration of Slovakia's standard left-wing parties.

The deputy general secretary of the European Socialist Party, Yonnec Polet, says the mergers are "the first positive steps towards a 2006 victory of left-wing forces in Slovakia".

Gigorij Mesežnikov of the Bratislava think tank Institute for Public Affairs says the mergers reflect Smer's strength rather than a new spirit of unification.

"I don't think [the recent spate of Smer mergers] is a unification of the left-wing spectrum. Rather, it is an influential Smer clearing the way for broad-based, international left-wing support," the analyst said.

Mesežnikov says Smer is going for acceptance into the Socialist International, a worldwide organization of socialist, social democratic and labour parties, as well as the European Socialist Party.

Regardless of Smer's motives for merging, the SDĽ's is fairly transparent.

The one-time influential SDĽ was once part of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's ruling government. A parliamentary party ever since it was founded in the early 1990s, the SDĽ fragmented into nothingness in 2002, when it split after reformed communists waged an internal battle against hard liners, including former SDĽ chairman Pavol Koncoš.

Among those who left the SDĽ to form the SDA was Peter Weiss, who now sees the both the SDĽ and the SDA mergers with Smer as a "necessity".

Current SDĽ chairman Ľubomír Petrák agrees.

"We want to offer a strong alternative to Dzurinda's current ruling coalition. The alternative will mean socially bearable reforms," said Petrák.

The approved two-year Smer-SDĽ merger plan guarantees proportional representation in Smer's structures to the SDĽ. Petrák and two other top SDĽ members, Vladimír Maňka and Ján Richter, were guaranteed seats in Smer's board of chairmen.

"We will be learning to live together during the two-year trial period. I have had many sleepless nights but I decided [in favour of the merger]. It is by no means certain that that we will win [parliamentary elections], but if we do not, we'll all lose in the end," Petrák told delegates at the December 4 meeting just before the final vote on the merger took place.

According to regular polls, the SDĽ scored just 0.6 percent voter support in November 2004, and the SDA only 0.1 percent. SDSS was not even listed. In contrast, Smer has enjoyed a long-standing lead over other Slovak political parties with support solidly higher than 25 percent. In a November poll carried out by the Slovak Statistical Office, Smer took 26.6 percent of respondent support.

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