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Slovakia: Prime Minister To Form Controversial New Party

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's announcement this week that he intends to form a new political party has created confusion in the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), a loose grouping of five parties that has faced constant instability since its founding two years ago. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele takes a look at the significance of Dzurinda's move.

Prague, 19 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Last Sunday, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda held a secret three-hour meeting in his office with several government ministers and deputies at which 11 of those present signed a declaration on forming a new political party -- the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU).

Dzurinda announced the declaration the following day. No date has been set for the formal establishment of the new party.

Dzurinda says he envisions the party as the eventual successor to the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) in parliamentary elections in 2002:

"The new political party will clearly carry on according to the ideals of the SDK, regardless of how it was formed. Its ideals are very clear: first of all to continue to integrate democratic forces in the country. It is apparent that the next parliamentary elections will decide once and for all about Slovak membership in the EU. At the same time, it upholds the goal of concluding all reform processes."

The SDK was formed two years ago by five opposition parties: three right-wing parties (the Democratic Party, the Democratic Union and the Christian Democratic Movement) and two left-of-center parties (the Social Democrats and the Greens).

The formula proved successful in winning parliamentary elections in 1998 and ending the populist rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. The vote put the SDK in power with three other parties (the post-Communist Party of the Democratic Left, the populist Party of Civic Understanding and a coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties). Meciar's downfall and Slovakia's return to democratic practices resulted in a rapid turn-around in the attitudes of NATO and the European Union toward Slovakia. Both bodies now fully support Slovakia's integration.

The 11 signatories say they oppose breaking up the SDK right away because that would violate the trust of the voters. But they say that, over the longer term, the new SDKU will promote the integration of reform forces in Slovakia and better serve the needs of voters.

In addition to Dzurinda, the founding members of the SDKU include Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Simko, and the ministers of foreign affairs (Eduard Kukan), interior (Ladislav Pittner), culture (Milan Knazko), health (Tibor Sagat), and transportation, post and telecommunications (Jozef Macejko).

One of those at Sunday's meeting who did not sign the declaration was Jan Figel of the Democratic Party, a state secretary at the Foreign Ministry.

Figel says Slovakia already has too many political parties. He says what the country needs are fewer functionaries and a greater interest in citizens' needs. He told reporters in Bratislava that integrating Slovakia into European structures cannot succeed as long as the country is splintered and individual and group interests prevail over those of society as a whole.

No one from the Democratic Party has signed the declaration. But the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Dzurinda's original party, is split, with nine of its MPs opposing the new party, three having signed the new party's declaration, and three expected to support it. KDH Chairman and Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky was among the first to criticize formation of the new party:

"It is with regret that the KDH takes note of the declaration by Mikulas Dzurinda and the other signatories announcing the foundation of a new political party, SDKU. This step further splinters the right in Slovakia. For the second time in the 10 years of its existence, the KDH is splintered. This declaration unilaterally ends the SDK's existence without even informing the parent parties in advance. It also unilaterally ends the negotiations on reorganizing relations between the SDK and its parent parties."

Nevertheless, Carnogursky did pledge to continue to support both the government and Prime Minister Dzurinda. The prime minister, for his part, says he intends to resign shortly from Carnogursky's party.

As Carnogursky suggests, the SDK faction in parliament appears to be on the verge of an institutional split. Deputies loyal to SDK want to draw up an agreement on cooperation with those who back SDKU.

One curious footnote is that the location of the meeting where the declaration was drawn up (Dzurinda's office) remained secret for two days, apparently due to ethical questions over the suitability of the prime minister's office as a site for founding a political party.

For its part, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) describes the SDKU as signaling SDK's disintegration and in HZDS's view "confirming once and for all that SDK was a matter of electoral fraud toward the citizens, with a single goal: to place parties in parliament which the voters had already ruled out."

The HZDS is reiterating its call for early elections, this time on the grounds that as a result of the establishment of SDKU, the SDK has lost the legitimacy of its mandate in parliament.