IN THE first round of presidential elections, perhaps for the first time in the short history of an independent Slovakia, a significant number of people decided not to choose the lesser of two, or more, evils.
The reward is a choice unparalleled in its obscenity, a choice between two evils between which none is the lesser and thus none should be chosen.
An extremely low turnout in the second round of voting, whose results are impossible to anticipate, appears to be the most probable consequence, as well as the most appropriate reaction to this situation.
In the 1999 presidential elections, responsible voters realised the need to vote for Rudolf Schuster in order to prevent the return of former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to a top position.
Perhaps not the best of choices, Schuster was nonetheless clearly the lesser of two evils.
In the 2002 parliamentary elections, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) also received its support not for its agenda, but mainly because it was likely to inflict the least damage upon the country.
Both Schuster and the SDKÚ have tested the patience of the people beyond bearable limits.
It seems the SDKÚ, whose reputation was far from untarnished even before the 2002 general vote, has gotten itself involved in a new scandal just about every second week since the elections.
For his part, the president turned out to be just a little too egotistical and anti-reform, even by Slovak standards.
The reaction of educated middle-class voters was more than natural. Disgusted by the developments, they refused to agree to the compromise game and choose SDKÚ nominee Eduard Kukan as the lesser evil in the first round of elections.
A large part decided to vote for the candidates they saw as good, rather than just the least bad. Former ambassador to the US Martin Bútora and František Mikloško, MP for the Christian Democrats (KDH), received 13 percent of the vote combined, each contributing exactly half that number.
That result is impressive, considering that opinion polls gave neither a real chance of passing into the second round. By choosing them, voters wanted to send a message about which candidates come close to their idea of what a president should be.
And it was a decision meant to calm the conscience of those who had come to regret the day they voted for Schuster, or the SDKÚ.
An even larger majority decided to stay away from the elections altogether, a choice reflected in the extremely low participation of only around 48 percent.
Some of those who voted for Bútora or Mikloško, or decided to stay home, would have perhaps voted for Kukan in the second round. But then again, perhaps not.
The decision by voters was driven by the belief that Slovakia is now in a position in which they can afford to avoid painful compromise or even participation in the election, which was an embarrassment long before the results were known.
And although Kukan would have been an incomparably better president than whoever ends up in the Presidential Palace after June's inauguration, there are few regrets.
But the big question of the moment for all those who are not supporters of either Gašparovič or Mečiar is what to do in the second round of elections.
Mečiar is completely unacceptable for a majority of Slovaks. The key to success for Gašparovič is therefore to convince voters in the few days left until election time that there is a substantial difference between himself and Mečiar, despite their long common past.
His advantage is that his role in the dark age of Slovak modern history, during which he was speaker of parliament and Mečiar head of cabinet, is less known abroad and may be partially forgotten by some at home.
Gašparovič will need to use that advantage to convince the majority that he indeed represents the lesser evil. He does not.
That he shares responsibility for bringing Slovakia into international isolation, which could have meant a definite end to the country's integration plans, cannot be forgotten.
Although he unconvincingly claims to have taken no part, he certainly did nothing to prevent Mečiar's shady privatisation, which, unlike the questionable transfers of state property post-Mečiar, brought ruin to companies and regions, not prosperity.
A ruined referendum, the unconstitutional ousting of an MP from parliament, the abuse of the intelligence service - those are all things he was involved in, agreed with, and did nothing to stop.
Supporting either of the two men whose past acts are inexcusable would be one more blow to the personal integrity of the many decent people living, and voting, in Slovakia. Moreover, it would be a useless sacrifice, as pretending that one of the two is better than the other would be nothing more than a merciful lie.
13. Apr 2004 at 0:00