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NEAR CRISIS AFTER JUST TWO MONTHS, THE RULING COALITION IS ADVISED TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION

Kiss and make up

CABINET parties must talk to each other and play fair if the coalition is to survive the four-year election term, observers said following a recent cabinet row over who will control a state energy firm.
The four coalition partners have run into their first real crisis since the formation of the cabinet two months ago, as previous ructions have been limited to petty disputes and misunderstandings.
The crisis came to a head when the Christian Democrats (KDH) failed to support a so-called public service law December 11, which, among other issues, was to create conditions for a more competitive system of wages to health sector employees, crucial to Health Minister Rudolf Zajac's health-sector reform.


HRUŠOVSKÝ (left) and Rusko (right) have been in a dispute over power.
photo: TASR

CABINET parties must talk to each other and play fair if the coalition is to survive the four-year election term, observers said following a recent cabinet row over who will control a state energy firm.

The four coalition partners have run into their first real crisis since the formation of the cabinet two months ago, as previous ructions have been limited to petty disputes and misunderstandings.

The crisis came to a head when the Christian Democrats (KDH) failed to support a so-called public service law December 11, which, among other issues, was to create conditions for a more competitive system of wages to health sector employees, crucial to Health Minister Rudolf Zajac's health-sector reform.

The KDH maintained that the party fully supported health reform and would support all corrective measures needed for the continuation of the reforms. Nevertheless, it decided not to support the public service bill as a protest against not being "taken as an equal to our [coalition] partners" on other issues, said KDH chair Pavol Hrušovský.

KDH protested that in planned nominations to various posts in the state-run electricity producer Slovenské elektrárne (SE), Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics of the coalition's New Citizen's Alliance (Ano) party did not consider including any KDH representatives.

Positions need to be filled on SE's board of directors, its supervisory board and in a commission for an intended privatisation of the energy producer. Nemcsics, however, maintained that he was looking for "experts" rather than political nominees.

"I don't study their political affiliation," the minister said of the people he was considering, and even offered his post to the KDH if that party could prove that his nominations were politically motivated. The KDH, however, continued to accuse Ano of trying to control the energy sector with its political influence.

Hrušovský said his party entered the coalition willing to carry responsibility for the development of the country in all spheres of life, including the economy. However, his party felt that the planned nominations to SE showed that "elementary justice in the division of power in the state and the economic sphere among coalition partners" had not been kept.

Although political analysts trusted that the coalition would be able to overcome the crisis and persevere, they noted the recent row showed a lack of transparent and explicit rules of communication inside the ruling coalition, which was created in record time after the September elections.

The coalition should bear in mind that such disputes only played into the hands of the political opposition, who are now "rubbing their hands [with glee]", said Soňa Szomolányi, head of the political sciences department at Commenius University in Bratislava.

And that certainly seemed to be the case when the opposition voiced its opinion on the squabbles.

"The dispute is simply about who will control provisions from the privatisation of SE," said head of the Smer opposition party, Robert Fico.

Describing typical methods of communication among coalition representatives as "blackmail and disrespect", Fico added: "One more hungry dog came barking from Záhorská Bystrica [home to TV Markíza which was led by Ano boss Pavol Rusko until he entered politics], who wants to be near and to control the SE privatisation."

Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, however, rejected the possibility that changes in the ruling coalition could take place, or that the coalition could fall apart.

This position was backed up by Hrušovský, who confirmed that his party would continue to play its role in the ruling coalition and that dissolution of the cabinet was not a threat.

"Nothing's happening. The coalition goes on," said Hrušovský.

Public opinion surveys suggest that, in general, people trust in the strength of the coalition. A recent poll carried out by the state-run Slovak radio showed that 60 per cent of Slovaks thought the coalition would hold together for four years. Still, around a thousand of the total 3,093 respondents were convinced the cabinet would fall apart prematurely.

But according to Mesežnikov, political closeness - all the coalition parties are right of centre - and a motivation to lead the country into Western structures such as Nato and the EU create strong bonds between the four coalition partners. These ties are stronger than "matters that could divide them", he said.

Analysts noted, however, that in the two months since taking power, the cabinet has several times slipped into squabbles over seemingly minor issues..

"All past disputes have one common denominator - communication is failing inside the coalition," said Szomolányi.

"To improve that, clear rules must be formulated. The initial enthusiastic post-election agreement among the coalition parties now needs to be more explicitly formulated and given a more solid basis," she said.

In the most recent dispute she believes the KDH broke fair-play rules when it chose to show its displeasure over one issue in "voting regarding a completely unrelated issue".

"In a coalition of four parties it is natural that problems will arise from time to time. It is clear that in a coalition of four political parties, everyone has to be prepared for compromises," Szomolányi said.

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