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PETITION PROVES EVEN SDKÚ ISN'T IMMUNE

Tensions plague opposition

INTERNAL tensions continue to paralyse Slovakia's opposition parties.

INTERNAL tensions continue to paralyse Slovakia's opposition parties.

After the departure of four central members of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) last month, blaming what they called the party's deviation from its original values, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) is now reeling from criticism by members who have become disillusioned with the leadership.

The situation has deteriorated to the point that the SDKÚ's regional branch in Bratislava recently called on the entire party leadership, including chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda, to step down.

On March 6, the branch released a statement in which it poured acid criticism on the party's leaders for losing touch with voters.

A week later, it distributed a petition entitled "The Time for Change Has Come", which 14 of its members signed. SDKÚ MP Martin Kuruc, Bratislava Deputy Mayors Milan Cílek and Tomáš Korček and Andrej Petrek, mayor of Bratislava's Old Town district, were among the signatories.

Within two days, all 14 signatories had been suspended from the party pending an expulsion hearing.

The need for change in the SDKÚ leadership was first mentioned in February, when SDKÚ vice-chairman Juraj Liška suggested that Dzurinda might be the main reason that the party's popularity had slumped.

"Dzurinda should consider whether he is a liability for the party," Liška told the Hospodárske Noviny daily on February 19.

But after a meeting with the SDKÚ leadership, Liška softened his tone.

Tensions flared again with the signing of the petition, which credited the SDKÚ, especially Dzurinda, with turning Slovakia into a prosperous and democratic country within a decade, but declared that trust in the party's agenda had faded.

"Despite the SDKÚ leadership's sterling reputation, the historic moment for change has come," reads part of the petition as quoted by the SITA newswire. "The SDKÚ-DS must show modernity and openness. Let us create a space for dialogue."

Bratislava regional chairman Valentín Mikuš told the Sme daily that the SDKÚ is in danger of becoming a one-man party.

"The party has 6,500 full-paying members, not just a chairman," Mikuš stressed.

Upon the release of the petition, SDKÚ vice-chairman Ivan Mikloš instantly lashed out at the Bratislava branch members for violating a recent party resolution that forbade the airing of dirty laundry.

"These concerns should have been mentioned within the party, but they never were," Mikloš told the Sme daily on March 6.

Dzurinda made a similar statement on March 10, telling the media that the party prefers to deal with its conflicts internally. He also denied that the party was expelling the signatories to prevent criticism of his leadership.

"This is ... a deep misunderstanding," Dzurinda said. "No one has ever brought criticisms against me to my attention. All I saw was something very dishonourable happening."

However, Mikuš contends that the expulsions were meant to stifle dissention within the party.

"Someone's stuck to the chairman's seat with a strong glue," Mikuš quipped to SITA.

Mikuš maintains that the effort to expel him violates his freedom of speech. On March 17, he filed a complaint against it with the Constitutional Court.

"Regulations cannot contravene human rights," he told journalists.

SDKÚ needs complete renewal, analysts say

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý said that the SDKÚ's efforts to purge members who signed the petition was reminiscent of totalitarianism.

"This is not the method of a democratic party, which typically acts through internal party discussion," Kusý told The Slovak Spectator.

Kusý also said that there is no easy solution to the SDKÚ's troubles and that a politician must know when to step aside.

"Instead of acknowledging its problems, this opposition just keeps denying them," Kusý said.

But Kusý was quick to add that he considered Dzurinda the country's best leader since the fall of communism.

"But this does not mean that he can remain fixed in this position forever," Kusý said. "New faces must emerge."

Political analyst László Öllős agrees.

"The same opposition politicians who lost the elections are still appearing in the media," Öllös told The Slovak Spectator. "That doesn't increase their popularity."

But Kusý and Öllős also agree that a new face in politics must be accompanied by a new agenda, slogans and image.

"The point [for the SDKÚ] is not to just to dismiss Dzurinda and that's all," Kusý said. "It must renew its entire agenda."

Öllős also attributes the situation to his idea that the opposition still hasn't recovered from being swept out of power in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

"It hasn't adapted to its position yet," Öllős told The Slovak Spectator.

Öllős continued that if the leaders of opposition parties, especially the SDKÚ and KDH, took a realistic look at their situation, they would know it was time to resign honourably.

They should do that before voters get the message that it is more important to the leaders to remain in their chairs than to spend time developing attractive ideas that win elections, he said.

"If the opposition stays this way in the future, it will lose the elections," Öllős predicted. "At this point, no changes that could lead to a victory are in sight.

Kusý said that the SDKÚ has failed to incorporate the lessons from last year's elections or to come up with a concept for what it means to be an opposition party. He also is certain that the attempt to expel the signatories has created an irreparable split within the party.

Something similar happened to the KDH, he said. Four MPs left, and now they've founded a new political party, he noted.

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