WHENEVER political parties manufacture laws for no other reason than to serve their narrow party agenda they turn the nation into a hostage to their petty political goals. Too often, baffling legislation keeps raining down on the nation its undesired blessings long after its creators have slunk into political oblivion.

One of the sad realities of the current coalition government comprising Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is that several laws it pushed through parliament were not prompted by any real societal need, but because these parties hoped that the measures would appeal to one part or all of their electorates – or else annoy the supporters of their political opponents.

The State Language Act, the Press Code and most definitely the Patriotism Act – or rather its toned-down version, the amendment to the Act on State Symbols – were definitely not demanded or desired by any societal consensus; these were measures designed to annoy anyone who has been labelled by the ruling parties as “opposition” or has been deemed a potential threat to the nation for the full-blooded euphony of its mother tongue.

Yet recent developments around the Patriotism Act did take a rather melodramatic turn. In a last-minute move, only 24 hours before parliament was expected to revisit the SNS-drafted but presidentially-vetoed Patriotism Act, Fico submitted his own version of the legislation.

With that move, Fico in fact took away one of the SNS’ favourite toys and what is, at present, one of the very few issues that might still win that party some nationalist votes.

There should be no sympathy for the SNS: Ján Slota’s party deserves everything it gets.

But does the nation deserve any such pointless law, which for perhaps many more years will emit the smell of the current ruling coalition?

Fico’s version is of course softer and incorporates some of the learning that Fico filtered from the massive protests against the original proposal.

For example, schools won’t now have to play the national anthem every Monday, but only twice a year. Nevertheless, Fico’s new version does not address the main objection: no law can inject more patriotism into the veins of the nation's citizens.

The first reaction of some observers was that Fico was in fact harvesting the nationalist vote and by doing so limiting the chances of the SNS to cross the 5-percent threshold it needs to make it into parliament at the general election on June 12.

However, a recent poll shows that in the end, Fico and his Smer party might find themselves in urgent need of the SNS in order to stay in government for another four years.

A poll conducted by the MVK agency suggested that the strength of the centre-right parties and the current ruling coalition might actually be quite balanced: it suggested that the centre-right parties – the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and Most-Híd – would have won 75 seats in parliament, the same number that would go to the current ruling trio.

The SNS and the HZDS are in fact in the danger zone, along with the ethnic Hungarian parties, the SMK and Most-Híd.

Yet, if the SNS fails to persuade at least 5 percent of Slovakia’s population that Slota and his band are the ones to effectively guard their interests, then the chances of Fico finding enough coalition partners to agree to anything that Smer wants in return for some crumbs of power and a range of good opportunities for family and friends will also be limited.

If the right-wing parties keep their feeble promises not to unite with Fico, then the election failure of the SNS and HZDS could give some hope to those who would like to see Fico adjust to political life in the opposition camp.

However, Fico understands that keeping Slota in top politics, given the baggage that the SNS carries – for example in the scandal surrounding the sale of Slovakia’s state emissions quotas to a shady company at a disadvantageous price for Slovakia, or the ill-famed billboard-tender which granted a lucrative state contract to a company allegedly linked to Slota – might become a rather dangerous proposition.

Unless, that is, his voters really are willing to digest anything: pointless laws to annoy those who are labelled enemies, or favoured companies growing fatter at the expense of taxpayers.

Presumably half of Slovakia’s electorate still has the stomach to resist.