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Reader feedback: More interesting candidates needed

Re: Regional elections mobilize only 18 percent of the vote; run-offs planned next week, Flash News, November 27, 2005

I did go to vote, but the snowy weather may have put me off if I didn't live so close to the centre of town. Our polling station is in the City Hall, which is the former Communist party headquarters.

We would have made a good advert - babka [granny], me and my wife, my son Thomas running around and the baby in the buggy: the ideal democratic family.

I really wanted to vote for a left wing party but there was only one party on offer, Smer, and I don't like their candidate, Juraj Blanar. For example, he demonstrated his "social conscience" in the campaign by offering Sk50,000(€1,320) to the family that sent him the saddest hard luck story.

This ran in the local newspaper that his pal Ján Slota [mayor of Žilina] controls for weeks and weeks. We were treated to a reality show of desperation. The joke is that Sk50,000 would be a drop in the ocean to these people. And this is the trouble with Smer: they are not a party that emerged from those left behind by capitalism; they are just a bunch of capitalists who exploit suffering as a brand.

It's hard to imagine what they will be like in power. Their populist campaigns mix bad luck with genuine injustice and they will probably have to spit on a lot of the people who have fallen for them. In some ways I will be glad when Smer forms a government and people see that they are not the real left that they are dreaming of. We might get some real progress then.

So, I followed the family advice and voted for "the good man", Mr Socuvka. I didn't vote for all his MPs though. He is in an alliance with the SDKÚ and they put up all sorts of senior civil servants from the region as candidates. I think people should be politicians or bureaucrats, not both. So I went for a few young students and greens, reasoning that that might shake things up.

I must confess that I voted without knowing 100 percent what the regional parliament does. I know they control spending on education, health and social services in some way, but there are areas of even these sectors that are controlled by the state or by the central government.

It's also not clear to me if this parliament has any control of policy. The ministries maintain offices in every district and monitor how teaching and health are handled.

A typical VÚC decision seems to be something like deciding which schools to close in the region when cuts have to be made. I sometimes wonder if the government didn't just invent them to take the blame for cuts.

I don't agree with [analyst] Grigorij Mesežnikov that "better information" would help increase participation. The problem is that we are being asked to vote for managers. And managers should manage, not be politicians. I wouldn't want to vote for the director of my local hospital, for example. It's boring, since the "politician" can do little more than promise to be a good manager. There's no way to be different or inspire people.

What would help would be smaller, more cohesive regions, clearer, stronger powers, maybe even some tax-raising ones, and real local personalities. Much as I hate Ján Slota's policies, he is a good example of how a local politician can make use of lobbying and local patronage to establish the image and character of a place.

When regional politicians use those skills, rather than just parachuting in a national brand logo and playing "managers" then we might see something more interesting.

Žilina, Slovakia

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