- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda says that his Christian Democratic Union must do a better job of appealing to Slovakia's electorate as the party heads into next year's national elections.
Following last Saturday's regional elections in which nationalist former leader Vladimir Meciar did surprisingly well at the polls, Mr. Dzurinda said that his moderate conservative party's poor showing means that it must look for ways to "appeal to voters and supporters to back candidates from the democratic movements of the center-right."
Mr. Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) claimed to have won five of eight governor's races in the country's first regional elections.
The results, if upheld in a second round of balloting, would put the HZDS in a position to challenge Mr. Dzurinda's Christian Democratic Union (SDKU) in national elections to be held in September. Mr. Dzurinda is trying to hold his fragile five-party governing coalition together and win re-election next year.
The HZDS has a well-entrenched base of support among the country's elderly and rural voters, who are receptive to Mr. Meciar's nationalist-populist message. The party also successfully played upon public perceptions that the current government has failed to reverse Slovakia's slumping economy. The country's unemployment rate is 18.6 percent and inflation is at 12 percent.
"People are dissatisfied with the poor economy. Ordinary Slovaks want more economic change from this government," a government official said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official believes, however, that the recent success of the HZDS does not mean that the party is poised to return to power due mainly to Mr. Meciar's polarizing personality.
"Meciar has no coalition potential. He consistently gets 30 percent voter support. But he cannot receive the 50 percent needed to form a government. His personality is very problematic. Europe is opposed to Meciar. He has no political future in terms of forming a government again," the official said.
The strong showing by the HZDS is a victory for Mr. Meciar, who led his country's drive for independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993.
Yet during his rule for much of the 1990s, the Slovak populist was criticized by Western governments for his authoritarian rule and shady privatization measures that damaged Slovakia's economy. Under Mr. Meciar's leadership, the country faced international isolation that prevented its entry into the European Union and NATO.
The HZDS was swept from power in 1998 by a broad-based coalition led by Mr. Dzurinda's Christian Democrats, who pledged to implement economic reform and support Slovakia's entry into the European Union and NATO.
The party now plans to refocus its political strategy for the Dec. 15 second round, when HZDS and SDKU candidates will face off against each other in six of the seven governor's races that are still undetermined.
The sole exception is in Zilina, where the head of the National Slovak Party (SNS), Anna Malikova, will face an HZDS candidate in the second round.
The first-ever regional elections were held after a law adopted in July decentralized the administration of the former communist republic. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) threatened two months ago to leave the coalition and dissolve Mr. Dzurinda's government.
It protested the division of southern Slovakia, which is heavily populated by ethnic Hungarians, into four regions. Hungarians constitute about 520,000 of the country's 5.4 million inhabitants.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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