THE PARTY primary election held by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) in the run up to this year’s parliamentary elections has put Iveta Radičová, the 2009 opposition presidential candidate, at the top of the SDKÚ’s ballot.
The short-lasting battle for the position between Radičová and Ivan Mikloš – a fight that could hardly be described as ruthless, thanks to both candidates’ clear efforts to show their friendship and willingness to work together towards their party’s common good – ended on February 27, with Radičová defeating Mikloš by an unexpectedly large majority.
Observers say this development could potentially revive the SDKÚ’s sagging preferences while giving its political opponents fewer angles for attack.
SDKÚ was the only party to hold a primary in the run up to the June 12 parliamentary elections. The results from the primary brought some surprises concerning the order of candidates on the party’s candidate list. Lucia Žitňanská was the presidium candidate to receive the most member votes with a total of 2,870, putting her in third place on the party’s election ticket after Radičová, in first place, and Mikloš, in second. Contrary to statements made by Mikloš before the vote, where he said that he expected a close contest, Radičová won by a considerable majority, receiving 2,669 votes compared to Mikloš’s 1,666.
In a videoblog recorded shortly after the primary results were published, Radičová thanked SDKÚ chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda “for making a serious political decision to protect the brand, expectations, needs and interests” of those who have voted for SDKÚ.
She also thanked Mikloš and stressed that the competition between them was friendly and that now the time has come for them to work together.
Radičová had the chance to represent SDKÚ as its election leader the day after the primaries in a TV debate with Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák. Kaliňák said that Radičová’s election was only a marketing strategy on the part of SDKÚ and that he did not expect her to bring any notable changes.
“It’s clear that Smer is not happy about it, and that they would have preferred a different result that would provide them with better opportunities to attack SDKÚ on grounds that are more favourable for them and less favourable for SDKÚ,” political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, adding that despite Smer’s claims that SDKÚ is still the same party with the same chairman, they now find themselves having to compete with a leader with a different character and different interests.
According to Mesežnikov, having Radičová at SDKÚ’s helm could help the party stem the exodus of a certain segment of its voters – “those who voted for SDKÚ in 2006 and considered voting for them again, but now, discouraged by certain problematic events, have started considering, or even already are, supporting other parties”.
These mainly include undecided voters and sympathisers of new parties like Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Most-Híd, Mesežnikov said, adding that the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) will probably not be affected by the changes within SDKÚ.
KDH chairman Ján Figeľ was quoted by the TASR newswire saying that he was not worried about the KDH’s preferences decreasing due to Radičová’s victory in SDKÚ.
“KDH holds to its programme of Christian democracy and conservative values, which we see as the ones needed for Slovakia and as a way out of the crisis,” TASR quoted Figeľ, who added that Radičová seems to tend more towards liberal values.
A new direction for SDKÚ?
Mesežnikov believes that Radičová’s election has given the party a greater chance to improve its position before the parliamentary elections.
“Although this will not be a replay of the presidential election, the awareness that she can also win voters who are less decided is still very much alive,” he said.
In spring 2009, Radičová ran against incumbent Ivan Gašparovič as the joint opposition candidate in the presidential elections. Although she lost in the second-round run-off, she still received about a million votes – which observers at that time claimed to be a great future election potential for SDKÚ.
According to Mesežnikov, Radičová’s position within the party will strengthen now, but her real influence on the party’s identity will only become clear after the elections and will largely depend on their results. If SDKÚ makes a good showing she might help the party strengthen its position on the Slovak political scene and could also become more influential within the party.
The Sme daily reported on March 2 that the regional organisations of SDKÚ in eastern Slovakia that supported Radičová in the primaries hope that she will help increase the party’s preferences. They believe that at minimum they will match the party’s result from 2006, which was 18.35 percent of the votes, and even hopes for 20 percent of the votes were mentioned. Recent polls show SDKÚ currently stands at around 12 percent.
Mesežnikov believes this goal might be possible, depending on the turnout and the way SDKÚ addresses the voters.
“The situation is more complicated today than in 2006 because, back then, SDKÚ had fewer competitors on the right side of the political spectrum,” he said. “So I would be careful. But the fact that the party has dared to set this goal of voter support shows a certain rise in self-confidence, which, from the viewpoint of SDKÚ, is not a bad sign.”
However, Peter Schutz, an opinion columnist for the Sme daily, warned that Radičová’s impact on SDKÚ’s preferences is not the main issue to be considered. He believes the question of how she will influence the key topics of the election campaign is more significant.
“Evidently, the key topics that Mikloš and Dzurinda were pushing touched on corruption, stealing and a certain moral fight with Smer, which are not Radičová’s cup of tea, as we can see from her previous presentations,” Schutz said in his video comment on sme.sk, referring to Radičová’s and Mikloš’s joint press conference given on March 2.
The overall level of social protection and support in Slovakia was reduced under the current Smer-led government, even before the economic crisis hit, Radičová said, as reported by TASR.
“We’ll continue with the fundamentals of the social state created before 2006,” said Radičová. “The measures that were received positively by the public will be corrected in order to avoid injustice, and then we’ll propose new measures focused on unemployment.”
According to Schutz, this message, and the idea of competing with Smer to see which party is more socially-focused is counterproductive.
“I really believe that a party that declares itself as being right-of-centre should look for different priorities in its leader,” Schutz said.
Radičová reacted to Schutz’s doubts again via a videoblog by saying that a modern state must be social and it has to intervene to some extent into the economy, “because not every society is advanced and moral enough to provide solidarity, social justice and social cohesion on its own”.
“If it’s a danger to try to find responsible solutions for the situation of young families trying to keep a roof over their heads in a way that creates no additional costs, then I’ll gladly take this risk,” Radičová said.
Fico attacks the past
Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, however, continued pointing the finger at the problematic funding of SDKÚ which cost former party chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda his position as election leader. Dzurinda stepped down after Fico presented to the media what he called new evidence of money laundering within SDKÚ during the Dzurinda-led government. Kaliňák said on STV that Dzurinda’s resignation as election leader confirmed these suspicions.
Radičová has already announced that she will not comment on the party’s past financing because the case dates back to before she became affiliated with the party and that it is Dzurinda’s job to explain the issue.
However, the past cases publicised by PM Fico are not the only problematic areas of SDKÚ’s funding, as the Pravda daily reported shortly before the election of the party leader.
According to the information first published by Pravda, there is some Sk12-20 million missing from the party’s treasury and the party has already filed a criminal complaint against its former accountant Eva Lilková on suspicion of fraud, a statement that has been confirmed by the police.
Pravda reported that the money disappeared little by little over the course of five years, during which Lilková allegedly embezzled the party through fictional invoices.
The management of SDKÚ was not aware of the case for a long time until the head of the party’s office, Kamil Homola, noticed irregularities in certain invoices and ordered an investigation last year, Pravda reported.
Sme reported later that Lilková had already been charged with a similar crime in 2001 when she allegedly similarly manipulated invoices in Slovenské Elektrárne.
8. Mar 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani