NEWS IN SHORT

Changing of the guard at HZDS

ONE OF the junior members of the ruling coalition, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), elected several new members to its party leadership at an extraordinary party congress on October 18 in Banská Bystrica. New deputy chairpersons Jozef Habánik, Peter Sika and Barbora Straková, as well as new party secretary general Ivana Kapráliková, are all under 35 years old, the SITA newswire wrote.

ONE OF the junior members of the ruling coalition, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), elected several new members to its party leadership at an extraordinary party congress on October 18 in Banská Bystrica. New deputy chairpersons Jozef Habánik, Peter Sika and Barbora Straková, as well as new party secretary general Ivana Kapráliková, are all under 35 years old, the SITA newswire wrote.

HZDS chairman Vladimír Mečiar said he believed the changes would attract young voters to the party.

Mečiar ditched senior officials Milan Urbáni and former agriculture minister Miroslav Jureňa at the congress, the Sme daily wrote. Straková will replace Urbáni after April 30, 2009, when the latter is expected to take up an as-yet unconfirmed position abroad.

Jureňa lost his position as deputy chairman after the HZDS boss declined to re-nominate him for the post, explaining that Jureňa wanted to focus on regional politics in the Trnava Region.

Urbáni and Jureňa are linked to reports from earlier this year about cash donations the party allegedly received in plastic shopping bags, and suspicious tenders at the Agriculture Ministry.

The HZDS said it will not support the current Slovak president, Ivan Gašparovič, in his likely re-election campaign next year.

"He has used the benefits of the post, but has not worked. Doing nothing is not a qualification for the next electoral term," said Mečiar at the congress. According to Mečiar, President Gašparovič did not make any mistake, but "he who does not work, makes no mistakes". Mečiar asked his party’s supporters not to vote for Gašparovič.

Mečiar, a former prime minister, has stood twice for president, both times without success. He has refused to run for the post a third time. In 1999, he lost in the second round to Rudolf Schuster; in 2004, he also made it to the second round only to be defeated by Gašparovič.

The HZDS said it intends to announce the name of an independent presidential candidate in mid-November. Mečiar has said he considers Prime Minister Robert Fico would be best for the job, but Fico plans to lead his Smer party into the general elections planned for 2010. Smer is a partner of the HZDS in the current governing coalition.

At the congress Mečiar distanced himself from his other coalition partner, the Slovak National Party, describing its members radicals.

“HZDS voices its concern about half-fascist and half-military groups [the Hungarian Guard], which endanger the internal security of Hungary and its internal democracy,” Mečiar said at the congress, as quoted by Sme. “HZDS is also aware of mistakes on the Slovak side. Nobody can be slurred only for affiliation to a national minority. Nobody should be slandered for a differing opinion.”

Referring to the public finances and the government’s highway construction policies, Mečiar said that HZDS has different visions but respects the fact that decisions are made by Smer.

“Smer also bears responsibility for lack of progress,” said Mečiar. “Promises, which the government gave, about what will be achieved by 2010 are not today realistic.”


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