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No surprises

WHAT usually comes as stressful and dreaded vote in parliament – the state budget – appeared to be an easy hand-lifting exercise for the Smer-led ruling coalition. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet had the budget for 2008 sail through parliament with an ease atypical of the Slovak political arena.

WHAT usually comes as stressful and dreaded vote in parliament – the state budget – appeared to be an easy hand-lifting exercise for the Smer-led ruling coalition. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet had the budget for 2008 sail through parliament with an ease atypical of the Slovak political arena.

But that did not necessarily mean that the opposition was so impressed with the state coffer plans that its deputies couldn’t resist voting for it. In fact, the opposition showered amend-ments on the Fico team, but the state budget remained completely untouched.

Finance Minister Ján Počiatek hopes that his budget will make history for its exemplarily low government deficit, while Fico remarked that “this budget does not waste money.”

There is much superfluous pathos in all that. In fact, market watchers were quick to point out that the economy’s muscles deserve more praise for a low-deficit and euro-friendly budget than any ruling coalition politician.

But Fico kept acting like a victor. After all, he is a victor. His team managed to bind a pathetic confidence vote in his government to the vote on the state budget.

Fico said it was an unavoidable wind-down to the ruling coalition crisis, which culminated after he sacked the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) agriculture minister Miroslav Jureňa over the recent land transfer scandal. Fico also said the vote proved that parliament backs his cabinet in its desire to serve to the nation.

But the nation already knew that every single coalition hand would press the “yes” button when the speaker of parliament invited them to vote, even without this theatre. And the nation knew even before the vote that the opposition simply does not have enough votes to challenge Fico.

After the confidence vote, even Fico said that he did not doubt for a second that he would win the backing of the parliament. That made many people wonder what point the vote could possibly have had, other than serving as theatre for his voters.

The truth is that the budget-confidence hybrid vote cannot wash the bad taste from the mouths of people who still have some faith in political principles. The way Robert Fico has been acting only proves that politicians still talk the political purity talk, but do not walk the walk.

Mečiar has a clear political co-responsibility for the scandals that involved the transfer of land worth millions of Slovak crowns to a firm believed to be close to the HZDS, but Fico continues to rule with him.

That aside, Fico knows that Mečiar has been carrying a couple of live political grenades from his past that could explode at any time.

As political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov said, Fico won the conflict with Vladimír Mečiar and he gave the HZDS boss a couple of tough blows, from which Mečiar is unlikely to recover. But the land scandal has left a stain on Fico’s face that the confidence vote cannot wash off.

The opposition has made a rather toothless attempt to have Fico sacked for his co-responsibility for the land scandal. It is also criticising the prime minister for his reluctance to prove how he obtained a vineyard in a Bratislava suburb, Nové Mesto.

The vineyard will earn Fico a profit of Sk6 million if it is rezoned as construction land, said the chair of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, Mikuláš Dzurinda. He compared Fico’s vineyard deal to the scandalous land transfers.

Shortly before this paper went to print, the ruling coalition – as expected – defeated the non-confidence motion, after the opposition walked out of parliament.

The opposition parties had already expressed dis-appointment that the non-confidence vote was scheduled for late at night.

They have a long memory of unfavourable late-night sessions – especially the “night of long knives” back in 1994, when the Mečiar-led coalition of the HZDS, SNS and the infamous Slovak Workers’ Party stripped the opposition of all the key posts.

“Elections are over, so just get used to it,” said Mečiar at the time, at his full strength and with the full arrogance of power.

This time it is Fico who is saying the same thing: not only to the opposition but even to Mečiar, who will be bleeding from the wounds he suffered during the ruling coalition crisis until the end of the cabinet’s term. And eventually he will politically bleed out completely.

Toothless non-confidence motions and theoretical discourses have always been part of the political game.

However, if such political performances take place during the day, there is a greater chance that the news, if there is any, makes it to the editorial offices by deadline.

But elections are over and journalists just have to get used to it.

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