Condemned to difficult choices or false hopes?

THE FLAME of early elections keeps burning. For many, it is not the fan and crackle of hope but rather the start of a conflagration that will consume their political careers.

THE FLAME of early elections keeps burning. For many, it is not the fan and crackle of hope but rather the start of a conflagration that will consume their political careers.

Some could compare Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to a tightrope walker, mincing his way high above the parliamentary floor without the security of a majority underneath.

Although Dzurinda has somehow managed to persuade 77 parliamentary deputies to hold a safety net for him - a move that finally allowed the Slovak parliament session to begin after a week of deadlock - how long they are willing to do so is unclear.

Others compare the cabinet's situation to the resuscitation of a body whose vital functions are seriously damaged.

Nevertheless, Dzurinda keeps repeating that numbers are numbers and that the ruling coalition has secured 77 votes. At the beginning of the electoral term it had 78. The prime minister sees no reason to resort to early elections.

The magic number which so dazzles Dzurinda does not seem to enchant the PM's ruling coalition partners, who seem baffled if anything as to how two staunch Vladimír Mečiar allies and active members of the opposition party, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), ended up in the ruling coalition.

Seemingly overnight, the two HZDS deputies decided that their "political conscience" dictated their move to the Dzurinda team, edging the coalition up to 77 - exceeding the 76 quorum by one.

Speculations emerged immediately that the departure of the HZDS deputies must have happened with the full knowledge of the HZDS boss. In fact, Mečiar would have risked the loss of additional HZDS voters if he openly declared support for Dzurinda. The popularity of the HZDS has been continuously dropping and most say the thaw between the HZDS and the ruling coalition is to blame.

However, the departing HZDS member Karol Džupa rejected this line of thought and even circulated a "touching" statement about the reasons behind his departure from the HZDS deputy faction.

"[Mečiar] created an impressive opus, the independent Slovakia, which is today an integrated part of the EU. It is a pity that he will be recognized only in the future when we all will be covered by the dust of forgetting and he will still be a permanent star of the most intense shine. Let's learn to honour personalities of historical importance today," Džupa wrote in his paid announcement.

Džupa, with his ode on Mečiar, did a great disservice to his former boss because he only enforced suspicions that he joined the ruling coalition upon a "higher" command.

A former ally of Mečiar, Miroslav Maxon, who parted from the HZDS on bad terms, said that the departing deputies must have acted on Mečiar's command.

On the same day that Dzurinda secured his 77 votes, Mečiar, who has had trouble in the past explaining how he funded his lavish villa in Trenčianske Teplice (Trenčín region), announced that his debts for the villa had been paid off.

Mečiar said he had settled the debt through property rights belonging to his wife, giving no additional explanation about the property rights.

Many were surprised at Mečiar's sudden forthrightness, since he had developed an almost allergic reaction to journalistic questions pertaining to his property conditions in the past.

But Mečiar raised the subject himself, saying he no longer had any debts and hoped that his statement would bring an end to the questions about where he got the money to finance the reconstruction, estimated to cost around Sk40 million (€1.1million).

Meanwhile the other ruling parties, the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), hope to distance themselves from any suspicion of union with Mečiar.

Opposition leader Robert Fico has at his disposal a whole range of topics to continue bolstering his popularity. He certainly did not miss the opportunity to suggest that the ruling coalition had been buying the votes of independent parliamentary MPs.

Fico is getting impatient about early elections as he hopes to collect some real "fruits" from the popularity charts that he has keept topping over the past year or so.

The past couple of weeks have served up many paradoxes. Many voters remain confused over what is better: having a prime minister with a incomparably better track record than Mečiar had but suspected of "buying" votes to remain in power or having a populist leader who will say anything to get elected? Do they have to endure either of these?

By Beata Balogová

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