THE PUBLICATION of another damning video transcript apparently catching a member of parliament discussing offers of bribery has again raised ugly questions of Slovak politics.
Among them, the question of whether Mikuláš Dzurin-da's minority government is buying the votes of independent MPs to stay in power is the ugliest, and of the greatest interest to police.
In its January 11 edition, the Pravda daily newspaper printed what it claimed was a partial recording of a conversation between independent MP Jozef Elsner and Pavol Rusko, head of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, whose departure from the ruling coalition last September left the government scrambling to secure support and avoid defeat in the 150-seat parliament.
After a week of uncertainty, the government patched together a narrow majority on the back of a band of ANO defectors and several improbable recruits from the ranks of independent and opposition MPs, including Karol Džupa and Eduard Kolesár from Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS party.
In the case of Elsner, another former HZDS MP, it was long uncertain during the breakup of Rusko's ANO whether he would side with the government or with those following Rusko into opposition. In the end, Elsner sided with the government.
"You said very clearly that I should think about how much the downpayment would be," Rusko said in the Pravda transcript.
"I shouldn't have asked you!" replied Elsner. "I shouldn't have asked! I'm sorry! They told me they were going to talk with me, so I hoped they would at least tell me how much.
"I thought I would compare, just out of interest."
The police have not commented on the transcript, and nor has Rusko, citing an agreement with police investigators.
The publication of the interview follows that of a similar interview last fall between Rusko and ANO MP Iveta Henzélyová, in which Henzélyová also appeared to claim that attempts had been made before the September parliamentary session to buy her vote for the government through offers to finance the reconstruction of her house.
"They were after me the whole night," she said. "They promised me that they would do my house, they promised me up and down."
Henzélyová denied having taken any money, but later ended up deserting Rusko for the ruling coalition. Reactions to the Elsner recording from the ruling coalition were muted, with Roman Vavrík of Dzurinda's SDKÚ party saying "we never bought any MPs, we aren't involved in this," and Béla Bugár of the Hungarian Coalition Party claiming that "I'm all mixed up about this. You can't tell anything from this interview."
Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic of the ruling Christian Democrats promised to ask Elsner "what his statements mean", but said the situation in the disintegrating ANO party should be taken into account.
Lipšic also said it was "unhealthy and unethical" for Rusko to be secretly recording interviews with other politicians.
Elsner denied that he had been talking about political bribery with Rusko.
"We were talking about business," he told Pravda. "He has companies, I have companies."
The Conflict of Interest Act forbids politicians to do business while in office.
Police are studying the Elsner recording, while in the Henzélyová case they have confirmed the authenticity of the tape.
The investigations have gone nowhere, however, because of the difficulty of identifying who made the alleged offers of bribery. To complicate matters, Henzélyová has refused to testify.
In an open letter to Slovak politicians published on January 12 in the SME daily paper, a group of prominent former politicians active shortly after the 1989 revolution called for "the investigation of all suspicions of political corruption" as the most important step towards renewing public faith in the nation's leaders.
"The year 2006 is an election year, the first since Slovakia's entry to the EU," the letter began.
"But our citizens, who have borne the pain of our difficult social transformation, are now turning away in disgust from their own democracy because of the gross behaviour and the abuses of office."