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The right must now gets its act together – and fast

THE RIGHT-WING house is in urgent need of complete reconstruction; repainting the façade and decorating the windows with geraniums will not help.

THE RIGHT-WING house is in urgent need of complete reconstruction; repainting the façade and decorating the windows with geraniums will not help.

If, a couple of years ago, changing the leader of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) might have helped the party of Mikuláš Dzurinda to maintain its double-digit support, now, after the once-strong party almost crashed out of parliament in the March elections, an exchange of leaders will simply not be enough.

The party, which holds its next congress in mid May, will have to find a very distinct voice, one which sounds convincing enough to right-wing voters to revive this once-reformist political force.

It was the SDKÚ and its forerunners, after all, that helped the country reverse out of the dead end it had been led into during the 1990s by Vladimír Mečiar, the semi-authoritarian prime minister whose leadership left Slovakia virtually isolated within Europe.

Of course, the propaganda repertoire that the SDKÚ can use to lure voters back is rather limited, since the party cannot reach for the nationalism, phobias or fast-track solutions which are the stock-in-trade of many other Slovak political parties.

Another dilemma for the SDKÚ is that other right-wing parties, some fighting for pure survival, some for dominance over the centre-right space, will be trying to make their voice more distinct and might be less inclined to cooperate.

Besides, the ‘let’s unite to defeat Fico’ theme is simply not enough any longer – even though, given the dominance of the government of Robert Fico, the right-wing parties have no other choice but to cooperate if they want to perform effectively in opposition.

The leadership bid announced Pavol Frešo, the president of the Bratislava Self-Governing Region, might surprise those who had not expected much drama in the race for the SDKÚ top job, who had assumed that the post would pass smoothly to former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská. During the election campaign, as disaster loomed, she attempted to get SDKÚ sympathisers to hang on, promising to challenge Dzurinda after the election provided she got enough preferential votes. In the election, she won by far the most preferences of any of the party’s candidates. But now Viliam Novotný, who hails from eastern Slovakia, has also hinted that he might join the race.

The fact that there will be a race with several runners and not just the usual applause at the end of the congress, confirming the re-election of a leader who has been chairing the party for a decade or so, could bring some fresh air.

Announcing his candidacy, Frešo said that the process of saving the SDKÚ – which, despite being the leading party on the right for the last decade, in March saw its support plunge to 6.1 percent, barely above the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament – must start from the bottom since the “trust of the people in what we do must be renewed”.

The success of the SDKÚ will also depend on how Fico does his job and whether his projected metamorphosis is real or just the introductory scene with which he has chosen to open his four-year play. The SDKÚ must also rely partly on the behaviour of its right-wing allies. No matter how well-designed are the concepts the right eventually offers to voters, if those who make the offer are consumed by petty infighting then, as the last elections showed, voters will opt for stability – even if it means Fico-style stability.

Shortly after the elections, the now-opposition parties, most of which are still licking their wounds, got involved in some fighting over the crumbs that Fico threw them. In doing so, they only deepened the apathy of potential voters.

It may seem that the SDKÚ has four full years to figure out how to reconnect with the electorate, decide what to offer, and start telling their story of transformation (providing any actually takes place), but in reality they do not have that much time. The right-wing parties need to solve, quite promptly, their internal problems, re-establish some new rules for cooperation and start operating as an effective opposition – for everyone’s sake.

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