- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia A former prime minister whose authoritarian style in office alienated the West apparently was thwarted in his comeback attempt yesterday after Slovakia's general elections left him too weak to govern alone and shunned by potential coalition partners.
Exit polls showed Vladimir Meciar's party either first or second but without enough votes to form a government by itself. The news heartened opponents who had warned that bringing Mr. Meciar back into power would block Slovakia's efforts to fulfill its foreign policy goals of joining NATO and the European Union.
The polls gave Mr. Meciar's HZDS party between 16 percent and 17 percent of the vote. Depending on the poll, that gave him either a narrow lead or put him second.
The other two top vote-getters, with similar results, were the party of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and the left-leaning Smer of Robert Fico.
Final results from the two days of polling that ended yesterday were not expected before tomorrow. If accurate, the exit polls mean that Mr. Meciar is apparently out of the picture because the other major parties have refused to work with him.
That means the center-right parties now in control will probably again join to form the next government.
Without naming Mr. Meciar, Mr. Dzurinda suggested his intention was to isolate the former prime minister, described by the West as the biggest obstacle to Slovakia's EU and NATO hopes.
"The important thing is that we exclude politicians who were for long years creating questions in Slovakia and abroad," he said.
The Communists the only party opposed to NATO membership received between 6 percent and 7 percent support of voters, enough to get them into parliament for the first time since Slovakia became independent in 1993. But they also are likely to remain isolated.
Mr. Meciar's five years as prime minister after the breakup of Czechoslovakia were marked by a disregard for democratic rules and restricting minority rights. Warnings by the United States and the European Union that his re-election would hinder Slovak efforts to gain EU and NATO membership led other parties to shun him.
Mr. Meciar was noncommittal as exit poll results came in. But Rudolf Ziak, the vice chairman of his party, said it expects to be first and get the nod from President Rudolf Schuster to form the next government.

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