Political players look to the future

POLITICAL analysts agree that no dramatic changes are expected in Slovak politics in 2005, as parties will be busy getting ready for the regional elections in December of this year.
These should provide some clues about how the political parties will interact in 2006 heading towards the next parliamentary elections.
The Slovak Spectator provided a forum for the parliamentary parties to share their vision for the upcoming year and evaluate 2004. (The Slovak Communist Party did not respond to the questions.)

POLITICAL analysts agree that no dramatic changes are expected in Slovak politics in 2005, as parties will be busy getting ready for the regional elections in December of this year.

These should provide some clues about how the political parties will interact in 2006 heading towards the next parliamentary elections.

The Slovak Spectator provided a forum for the parliamentary parties to share their vision for the upcoming year and evaluate 2004. (The Slovak Communist Party did not respond to the questions.)

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What will be the greatest challenge for your party in 2005?

Pavol Kubovič (Deputy Chairman, Slovak Democratic and Christian Union - SDKÚ): The local government elections will be one of our main concerns. The importance of these elections increased after the approval of the fiscal decentralization.

The ratification of the EU Constitution agreement by the Slovak parliament will also be one of 2005's significant challenges, as well as the continuation of economic and social reforms.

Gyula Bárdos (Head of the deputy faction, Hungarian Coalition Party - SMK): 2005 will show how the new reforms function and what corrections will be needed. Another challenge is for Slovakia to perform well as a European Union member and the SMK wants to contribute its share to that.

This is a pre-election year and the year of local elections so tensions may rise between the majority nation and minority communities.

As far as preparations for the local elections are concerned, we have reason to worry that they might turn into a vote against a minority. So far no party has responded to our call to unite for the local elections.

It might indicate that our coalition partners are trying to figure out how to rule without the SMK and that they no longer need our party.

Ján Kovarčík (Deputy Chairman, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia - HZDS): Definitely the coming local elections to the higher territorial units [regional assemblies].

The HZDS was very successful in the last local elections and we want to confirm this year that our victory was not accidental but that it was the result of systematic work. I believe that the local government elections will end media myths about the low coalition potential of the HZDS.

Branislav Jáger (Spokes-man, Christian Democratic Movement - KDH): The Christian Democrats consider it their priority to push through a proposal that would make it possible for Slovaks to decide about the EU Constitution, just as in other EU countries.

Pavol Paška (Deputy Chairman, Smer): Our top priority is to maintain the trust of our voters and sympathizers whose number continues to increase and for whom we are actually a real alternative to the current government.

Eva Černá (Member of the Board, New Citizens Alliance - ANO): This is our third year in parliament, and our main goal is to make sure that people will finally feel the changes we made in our legislation, mainly the health and trade reforms. 2005 is going to be the right time for any small changes to be made so people can finally lose their scepticism and find optimism again.

TSS: What was your party's most significant achievement in 2004?

SDKÚ: 2004 was generally successful. We became members of the EU and NATO, both of which were in our party's programme.

Last year, the SDKÚ won the elections to the European Parliament, the first such elections in Slovak history. We also consider the first effects of the reforms on Slovakia's economy to be a success.

SMK: It is without doubt the integration into the EU, because party representative [Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration] Pál Csáky, who was heavily criticized in the initial stages, was responsible for the coordination of the integration process. There were concerns as to whether Slovakia could handle the process, but in the end, of the four Visegrad countries, we coped the best. For example, Slovakia made direct payments to farmers, the only Visegrad country to do so.

HZDS: Without a doubt, the results of the first round of the presidential elections when HZDS candidate Vladimír Mečiar literally swept away ruling coalition candidate Mr. [Eduard] Kukan, despite a systematic media campaign against him. It should not be overlooked that even ruling coalition parties have acknowledged the importance of the HZDS and today they respect us as a standard political party with considerable influence on the domestic political scene.

KDH: Our greatest success was the adoption of the law on the family, which takes into consideration traditional values and protects the family from dangerous liberal influences. An important part of this law is the measures to protect unwanted children and speed up the adoption process in Slovakia. This means women do not have to give birth in secret.

Smer: I consider the fact that the number of our voters is growing and the popularity of our party is on the rise very encouraging. We are also working on further improving the professionalism of our party. I am confident that what we do we do right and we want to keep it up.

ANO: We had several. I personally put forward trade laws, which were accepted and I'm especially proud of that. I believe that small and medium businesses are the ones that work hard, pay a lot in taxation and never ask for anything. I believe this group has been neglected in the past and we fixed it.

Another amendment to the law that parliament passed was the one on family law. It was very special to me and was one of the hardest to agree on.

TSS: What do you consider your party's greatest failure in 2004?

SDKÚ: We are sorry that we failed to push through Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan to the presidential seat. On the other hand, we can now claim that Slovakia has an excellent Foreign Affairs Minister.

SMK: I think it was the loss of the majority in parliament. However, I do not think that it was the failure of our party but rather the whole ruling coalition. This situation means that the government's programme will take longer to fulfil. I would also mention the ruling coalition's failure to wrap up reform in the education sector, which was planned. Another failure was that, as part of fiscal decentralization, the coalition did not manage to secure a minimum extra two years state financing for smaller villages to better prepare for the changes.

HZDS: I do not know of anything we could mark as a failure.

KDH: Perhaps the failure to adopt an important reform law pertaining to education.

Smer: I do not think it was our failure but we are a bit sorry that we did not succeed in convincing more people to come to a referendum [on early elections].

ANO: We were hardest hit by the departure of some of our colleagues. We failed to keep our party unified and intact. Those who left included one of the founding members of the party and maybe even the reason for me getting into politics. That shouldn't have happened.

TSS: Do you expect considerable changes in political life in 2005?

SDKÚ: We do not expect any fundamental changes in political life. It seems that the situation is stable and all the important laws are going through parliament.

We will keep asking for the support of independent deputies who are interested in fulfilling the government's programme.

SMK: I think the current state of things will prevail. There might be some minor changes, but I think the ruling coalition will continue to have a minority in parliament. It seems that a year before the parliamentary elections there will be no fundamental changes. As for the SMK, it appears that several political partners want to push us out and marginalize us.

HZDS: No fundamental changes appear to be waiting for us.

Smer: In terms of "big politics" I do not expect changes. It is evident that this government has found a "modus operandi", how to stay in power till regular parliamentary elections. But 2005 will be, for sure, important from the point of view of regional elections. This again will be a challenge for us and a test of our ability to convince the voters.

ANO: I don't expect huge changes.

TSS: What will the main focus of your party be during the upcoming session?

SDKÚ: The ultimate goal for the party will be to pursue our programme of a "modern Slovakia". The adoption of the reforms is proof that Slovakia is on the right track to achieve that goal.

HZDS: The 2005 local government elections are a top priority. These will be a rehearsal for the parliamentary elections in 2006. As far as big political issues are concerned, we want to confirm the clear orientation of the HZDS as a people's party with a strong civic and social programme.

KDH: The KDH wants to continue its fight against crime and corruption and keep submitting proposals to protect families and children.

Smer: In the first months of the new year we want to complete the process of integration of centre-left political issues that our party congress started in December by approving an agreement on integration. Then it will be preparation for the regional elections.

ANO: The most important area we would like to focus on is healthcare so our changes will be finally visible to all.

(Marta Ďurianová and Magdalena MacLeod contributed to the report.)

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