VLADIMÍR Mečiar, founder of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), has announced he is quitting as leader of the party after 21 years. The three-time prime minister and one of the founders of independent Slovakia, whose governments were marked by numerous scandals, creeping authoritarianism and dubious privatisation of state property, announced his departure after the HZDS received only 0.93 percent of the vote in the March election.
The party, which won nearly 35 percent of the vote in the 1994 parliamentary elections and was in government as recently as 2010, will now look for a new leader to help restore its fortunes and attract lost voters. Several political scientists said, however, that without its charismatic leader, the party is essentially dead.
“It was the party of one leader,” Darina Malová, head of the Department of Political Science at Comenius University, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that a majority of HZDS local activists and organisations will join either the Slovak National Party (SNS) or Smer.
Ján Baránek of the Polis polling agency said he believes there is little chance of the party recovering since it “has definitely lost its voters”.
But some members of the HZDS reportedly hope that a new chair, who should be elected by the beginning of summer, will help recover public support. Mečiar told an April 26 meeting of the party’s presidium that he will remain an ordinary member and that he takes responsibility for the poor election result, Ján Kovarčík, a member of the presidium, told the Hospodárske Noviny daily.
“He [Mečiar] is disappointed by the attitude of voters towards him as well as the HZDS,” said Kovarčík, as quoted by the daily.
While Kovarčík said he hopes that support for the party will rise as a result of the reaction of voters to the unpopular measures which the ruling Smer party will have to pass, Baránek says it is too late for any kind of comeback.
Moreover, he told The Slovak Spectator that one group of HZDS members is bent on disbanding the party. He was referring to calls by Jozef Božík, the HZDS mayor of Partizánske, for the party’s regional structures to dissolve the movement since “there is no other alternative”.
“The HZDS can express its correctness and responsibility only with its departure from the political scene and its controlled dissolution,” the mayor said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
Political scientists doubt the possibility of establishing a completely new party based on the values of the HZDS. Malová told The Slovak Spectator that this is hardly possible since the movement lacks “a fierce personality which would join such project” while Baránek believes that everything will depend on the functioning of the party’s structures, noting that the HZDS remains among the better-organised political movements in Slovakia.
“One thing is to have them [the structures of the party] on paper, and the other is whether they are still functional,” he told The Slovak Spectator.
Into the shadows
Vladimír Mečiar became well-known during the Velvet Revolution as a member of Public Against Violence (VPN), the first non-communist political movement to be formed in the wake of the communist regime’s collapse. Some members of VPN left it in 1991 and established the HZDS as a new political party with Mečiar as their leader.
During the first half of 1990 Mečiar served as interior minister of the first post-communist Slovak government. In June 1990 he was elected to the post of prime minister, where he remained until April 1991.
He became prime minister again in June 1992 after parliamentary elections and remained in that post until March 1994, when he lost a no-confidence vote in parliament. However, he returned as prime minister in December 1994 after the general election in autumn of that year saw the HZDS sweep to victory, remaining as prime minister until October 1998. Between March and October 1998 he also was acting president while Ivan Gašparovič served as speaker of parliament – later being elected Slovakia's president in 2004.
Though the HZDS finished first in the parliamentary elections in 1998 and 2002 it was unable to form a government either year. The HZDS returned to government in 2010 in coalition with Smer and the Slovak National Party.
In the 2010 parliamentary elections Mečiar’s party received only 4.32 percent of the vote, failing to pass the 5-percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament.
Vladimír Mečiar also ran in two presidential elections: in 1999 he was defeated by Rudolf Schuster; in 2004 he won the first round but lost the run-off round to Gašparovič.
7. May 2012 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová