THE OPPOSITION once again failed to sack a minister of the Mikuláš Dzurinda cabinet, despite its experience in initiating no-confidence motions.
The first no-confidence motion by the opposition dates back to 1999 when the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), unable to digest its defeat in the 1998 parliamentary elections, sought to fight the coalition by putting certain cabinet ministers on trial and having them removed.
The no-confidence motion soon devolved into a theatre of the absurd as deputies motivated by petty quarrels had ministers recalled to resolve personal vendettas.
This abuse of the no-confidence privilege meant the motion soon lost all political weight.
During the reign of Vladimír Mečiar and his retinue, when the HZDS was back on top, the opposition used the no-confidence motion to draw public attention to the incompetence of some ministers. Though the attempts were stillborn, the opposition (led by Christian Democrats Dzurinda and Ján Čarnogurský, and Béla Bugár of the Hungarian Coalition Party) gained public sympathy with each lash that bloodied Mečiar's crooked buddies.
At that time, Mečiar and his HZDS demagogues complained that the opposition was not interested in serious parliamentary work and that all they wanted was to play the "no-confidence motion game".
Ironically, it was Mečiar's HZDS and Robert Fico's Smer that delivered the final blow to the no-confidence motion, beating out the last of its credibility.
One-time Interior Minister and current head of the Slovak Intelligence Service Ladislav Pittner survived three no-confidence vote attempts by HZDS and Smer before resigning as Interior Minister of his own volition.
Former Justice Minister Čarnogurský and Dzurinda are "no-confidence motion survivors", too. The unfortunate thing is that even when a minister deserves to be sacked, the motion no longer serves its purpose.
Labour Minister Ľudovít Kaník recently survived a no-confidence motion without any repercussions at all.
Still, it cannot be said that he came out the moral victor: Instead of the 76 parliamentary votes needed to sack him, 66 members of parliament supported his recall.
Smer initiated the motion, accusing Kaník of mishandling pension reforms and taking part in an advertising campaign for one of the new private pension-fund management companies.
Kaník has also been accused of failing to pay payroll taxes on behalf of his employees to social security provider Sociálna poisťovňa from 1997 to 1999. The state-run company pardoned Kaník by levying a fine of Sk263,000 (€6,600).
The opposition suspects that Kaník has played a role in the general pardoning of businessmen who failed to pay payroll taxes.
Kaník's "slip" in esteem was a tough pill to swallow for some ruling coalition deputies.
New Citizens Alliance head Eva Černá said that in any other country, a minister suspected of such behaviour would resign on his own.
However, Kaník claims that the timing of his pardon by the state-run social insurer, which happened concurrently with his assumption of ministerial duties, was a coincidence.
Kaník rightfully takes the credit for initiating one of the most backbreaking and protracted social reforms in Slovakia's history, and modifying the way the public perceives the social system.
Regardless of Kaník's blemishes, the pension reform that he started allows citizens to invest into their future and have greater control over how much money they will receive once they retire.
Unfortunately, the recent revelations transform Kaník in the public's eye from a principled teacher into a priest who tells his congregation to drink water while he sips wine.
The Kaník case provides good material for the populist campaign of Smer and the Communist Party, both of which hope to appeal to those hit hardest by Kaník's reforms: the socially weak and those who live on state aid.
by Beata Balogová
20. Dec 2004 at 0:00