THE WORST thing that opposition parties can do is resort to petty infighting at a time when the political arena hungers for a vocal and united opposition. Yet the members of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) are scratching each other until they bleed.
The timing of the infighting has journalists weaving conspiracy theories because it culminated in both parties simultaneously, just when the opposition had managed to turn a seemingly run-of-the-mill parliamentary vote into a serious deadlock for the first time since last year's elections.
The opposition has refused to ratify the Lisbon Treaty until the Robert Fico government withdraws the draft press code, which has been heavily criticised by both the media and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Fico needs some opposition votes in order to assure the treaty's smooth sailing.
But former defence minister Juraj Liška, who in 2006 stepped down as a result of the tragic An-24 military-aircraft crash in north-eastern Hungary that killed 42 soldiers and crew, has gone on a campaign against his party chairman, Mikuláš Dzurinda, suggesting he is ripe for retirement.
"Dzurinda should leave the party leadership," Liška said as quoted by the Sme daily. "I do not say that one day he could not return. He should rest now. I think he is internally tired."
The SDKÚ boss, who has led the party since its inception in 1997 as the Slovak Democratic Coalition, appears not to be in the market for Liška's retirement plans.
Liška ascended to the defence ministry with Dzurinda's help and was once seen as his foot soldier, so his sentiment signals something is rotten in the state of the SDKÚ.
According to Sme, Liška's loyalty to Dzurinda soured after Stanislav Janiš, the head of the SDKÚ deputy faction, failed to excuse Liška, who was playing golf on Gran Canaria, from a parliamentary session. Yet Dzurinda has suggested that Liška's unhappiness with the leadership is due to the party's rocky business ties with his buddy, Jaroslav Závodský.
The truth is that a line of succession is the last thing most Slovak parties think about. Many chairmen treat their party like a child that owes its existence to its leader, and that will die the instant they part from it. Vladimír Mečiar is the most typical example of these "party fathers".
With that said, Liška is neither viewed as the right person to start this debate nor someone who is accomplishing anything other than further weakening his party, which is still licking the wounds of the previous election.
Just a couple of days after Liška's statement, key figures from the radical wing of the Christian Democratic Movement - Vladimír Palko, who served as Dzurinda's interior minister, František Mikloško, Pavol Minárik and František Bauer - announced their departure from the party.
They said the KDH had betrayed its own ideals, though they are actually talking about their interpretation of those ideals as self-declared guardians of Christian Democratic values.
Palko and his allies have said several times that the party should be uncompromising when it comes to "guarding the traditional lifestyle" and "well-tested views of the world". The grand KDH plans included boosting the Slovak population and decreasing the number of immigrants living in Slovakia.
The KDH has also taken a radical stand on homosexuality, while back in 2000 one-time KDH boss Ján Čarnogurský declared war against prostitution. Čarnogurský suggested that the police harass prostitutes through frequent questioning so they would flee Bratislava's city centre and highway stations of their own accord. In 2001, the KDH went so far as to prepare a draft law preserving Slovakia's sovereignty and tried to insert a ban on abortion into the Slovak Constitution.
Yet Palko and his gang now feel that the KDH has deviated from its true path.
Political analysts said that the departure of Palko's wing would significantly weaken the Christian Democrats, but likely not paralyse the opposition's work. Some still blame the KDH for taking too long in 2006 to decide whether to join or reject a Fico government.
Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov said that he had observed Palko taking on a more national dimension lately, as well as more caution towards Hungarians and greater distance from the SDKÚ.
Well, there are parties within the ruling coalition who have these political items on their menu. But Palko has been critical of the KDH leadership for toying with the idea of an alliance with Smer and its allies, so any orientation in that direction would be a shocking political schizophrenia that even the colourful Slovak political arena couldn't grasp.
Palko might try to produce yet another political mutant destined to end up on the dust heap of short-lived parties founded by jilted political groupings.
But both Liška and Palko have chosen an inopportune time to air their party's dirty laundry