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Sulík retains SaS leadership in vote

RICHARD Sulík will keep his top job in the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party after party members expressed their preference, in a secret ballot in mid March, for Sulík over his challenger Jozef Kollár, by a narrow margin of 13 votes. Kollár, who garnered votes from 121 of the 257 delegates at the party congress in eastern Slovakia’s Prešov on March 16, said that he would remain in the SaS at least for now, provided his two conditions are met by the victor: no castigation of people who publically supported him ahead of the vote and the inclusion of some of his programme points into the SaS agenda.

Richard Sulík (l) and Jozef Kollár(Source: TASR)

RICHARD Sulík will keep his top job in the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party after party members expressed their preference, in a secret ballot in mid March, for Sulík over his challenger Jozef Kollár, by a narrow margin of 13 votes. Kollár, who garnered votes from 121 of the 257 delegates at the party congress in eastern Slovakia’s Prešov on March 16, said that he would remain in the SaS at least for now, provided his two conditions are met by the victor: no castigation of people who publically supported him ahead of the vote and the inclusion of some of his programme points into the SaS agenda.

While pundits said the party could have been better off in terms of boosting its public support with Kollár at the top, opposition politicians said they hope Sulík has learned from his past mistakes. Observers also noted that Sulík’s narrow margin of victory might indicate a division within the SaS. Sulík, however, does not attribute much importance to the 13-vote margin.

“The fact that I was elected in a secret ballot in a legitimate way, which has not been questioned by anyone, is substantial,” Sulík said during a political talk show broadcast by the public-service Slovak Television (STV) on March 17, adding that Kollár has accepted his defeat fairly and that he would meet his conditions.

Sulík also said that he is not worried about the eventual fragmentation of the party, which has around 300 members, denying claims of internal division within the SaS, adding that the party is united and that having differing opinions is completely acceptable.

Yet, two members of the national board of SaS, Xaver Gubáš and František Ksenzsigh, have already announced their departure from the party, as reported by the Sme daily on March 19. According to Sme, it is still not clear how parliamentary deputies who supported Kollár, including former economy minister Juraj Miškov and one-time culture minister Daniel Krajcer, will proceed.

The choice

Analyst Ján Baránek of the Polis polling agency said that SaS, by electing Sulík, had missed a chance to boost the party’s popularity among voters.

“It cannot be substantially assumed that a chairman who led the party into a decline in popularity and, especially, election [results], would return it to a higher level,” Baránek said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that a new chairman could have done that for the party.

A new leader would also have had a better chance of negotiating successfully with the leaders of the other opposition parties, especially when deciding over a joint candidate for the presidential election or elections to the self-governing regions, Baránek added. He did not rule out the possibility that SaS might split.

Political scientist Michal Horský shares the opinion that after Sulík’s election the party might stagnate.

“A party with such minimal membership potential, where the difference in electing the chairman represents around dozens of votes, in fact continues to step around the 5-percent margin of the parliamentary threshold,” Horský said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Horský suggested that the opposition parties will have problems publicly declaring full cooperation with the old-new SaS chairman.

Christian Democrat Movement (KDH) deputy chairman Pavol Abrhan said he believes that Sulík will learn from his mistakes, but refused to name them when asked by SITA. Most-Híd chairman Béla Bugár said that if Sulík had been more open to an agreement, the government of Iveta Radičová would not have collapsed, according to SITA.

Shortly after its establishment in 2009, SaS became in 2010 part of the four-party centre-right coalition government led by Radičová. Nevertheless, the short-lived government crumbled on October 11, 2012, when it lost a vote of confidence pegged to the vote on the extension of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) after SaS refused to back it. The then opposition Smer, which had initially refused to back the EFSF, a tactic it used to bring down the government, unanimously supported the deal in a second vote once the other three former governing parties agreed to an early election.

Sasanka

In March 2012, Sulík had some explaining to do after a set of secretly made video recordings, known as the Sasanka file, revealed that he told controversial businessman Marián Kočner about the tortuous process of choosing a new general prosecutor at the time Sulík was serving as speaker of parliament in late 2010, and also had him ‘screen’ some of Sulík’s own SaS candidates prior to the 2010 election.

The file comprised transcripts of alleged SMS text messages exchanged between Sulík and Kočner in 2010 as well as seven short videos featuring Kočner and Sulík that were covertly recorded at Kočner’s home.

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