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Blossom in the wind

ANYONE who just a month ago had hoped that those 988,808 second-round votes for Iveta Radičová, the joint candidate of the parliamentary opposition parties in the presidential election, would gave a lasting boost to the whole opposition were wrong.

ANYONE who just a month ago had hoped that those 988,808 second-round votes for Iveta Radičová, the joint candidate of the parliamentary opposition parties in the presidential election, would gave a lasting boost to the whole opposition were wrong.

A momentary lapse by Radičová, who is the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union’s (SDKÚ) deputy chairwoman, has blown most of those hopes away like so much spring blossom in an April breeze.
Radičová was cornered into giving up her deputy’s mandate after voting on behalf of her party colleague Tatiana Rosová in parliament on April 21. Radičová pressed Rosová’s voting button (they occupy neighbouring seats in the parliamentary chamber) prompted by a desire to see an opposition amendment to the Education Act pass.

The ruling coalition immediately sensed an opportunity. If she had not abandoned her deputy’s mandate, the ruling parties - Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) - would have been able to turn her case into a monotonous but universal response to any criticism of moral failure that the opposition or media directed at the ruling coalition in future.

Radičová denied the ruling coalition this weapon, which it was already poised to use, and instead set an example – albeit one which the existing, notorious violators of parliamentary rules within the coalition are very unlikely to follow. On an even gloomier note, no matter what example she has set, the fact that one of the most popular opposition politicians has lost her mandate and had her political career paralysed by such a trivial lapse exposes the lamentable position in which the opposition parties find themselves.

It really seems that these parties, after their eight years of power sharing are still bleeding from several wounds, which in their brighter moments seem to have healed, only for them to re-open during any period of strong political turbulence. Now the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which in the past took such pride in its ability to manage internal disputes, seems to be falling apart.

The popular ex-boss of the SMK, Béla Bugár, has quit the party’s parliamentary group. Two of his colleagues László Nagy and Gábor Gál followed him in the act, which they dubbed a protest against the policies enforced by current party chairman Pál Csáky. These departures came only days after former agriculture minister and MP Zsolt Simon quit both the parliamentary group and the party itself. Simon in the past had lashed out at Csáky, suggesting that the SMK policy line had been paralysing its cooperation with the other opposition parties.

Csáky, who replaced Bugár in a surprise vote in 2007, has never convinced SMK voters more widely that he is comfortable leading the party.

Shortly after taking over, he became entangled in rhetorical exercises that neither supported Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation nor strengthened his party; instead they strengthened MP Miklós Duray, who represents the more radical wing of the SMK, and who gained a freer rein and a louder voice.

In late 2007, just months after Csáky took over, the party suffered a four-percent decline in popularity from its previous 10 to 12-percent highs. This prompted the media to start speculating about the return of Bugár, who holds some appeal for many non-Hungarian Slovak voters. Since Bugár’s departure from the top post, the question of whether his return could balance the perceived ‘radicalisation’ of the SMK, which is often just a feeble response to SNS presence in the government, had been frequently posed.

Bugár has this time been quick to say that his departure and that of the other deputies is not intended to be a leadership bid but rather an attempt to address serious problems and bring about a change in the way the SMK is run. Undoubtedly, part of the SMK’s problem is that its leaders, who have been around for more than a decade, have failed to cultivate a new generation of politicians with ideas about how to widen the scope of its policies.

Parties need to modernise or they face having no greater purpose than responding to the provocations of one-trick operations like the SNS, or agonising over ideals that they themselves have long since abandoned.

Instead, the SMK should do its voters the service of settling its internal disputes and assuring them that today’s clashes were about fundamental issues and what the party has to offer - rather than just petty personal disputes.

Thoughts by the departing deputies of establishing another party are idle, and would only further splinter the opposition.

A new variation of the Hungarian Coalition Party would be just another curio to add to Slovakia’s large collection of failed micro-parties, offering nothing new beyond further satisfying Robert Fico and his band in their ceaseless efforts to further weaken the opposition.

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