Good timing and bad timing

GOOD timing is everything, especially in politics. A speech or a bold initiative with perfect timing can smash political opponents, germinate new public enthusiasm or even move the masses. Bad timing can spoil the best of intentions and even turn once revolutionary ideas or leaders to pathos.

GOOD timing is everything, especially in politics. A speech or a bold initiative with perfect timing can smash political opponents, germinate new public enthusiasm or even move the masses. Bad timing can spoil the best of intentions and even turn once revolutionary ideas or leaders to pathos.

History shows that personal departures from the ivory towers of party politics are often when politicians get the timing so badly wrong.

Sometimes they leave four or five years after they should have. Sometimes they fail to leave at all, and sit on top while watching their party’s constituency wither slowly away, all the while diligently fabricating delusions about why they must continue to firmly stay on their parties’ thrones. And after the passing years, some, in fact, even start to believe they are the party.

One of Slovakia’s eternal party chairmen is Vladimír Mečiar, who term after term leads his army of obedient deputies from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) into the quadrennial elections. For how much longer? Most likely until the party is frozen out of parliament. And even after being unable to pick up that 5 percent of the votes, Mečiar would still remain boss.

Some wondered whether the same fate would await the boss of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Mikuláš Dzurinda, who has been leading his party’s candidate list for a decade. No doubt he would have continued sitting on top if Prime Minister Robert Fico had not decided to reach back and resurrect questions about SDKÚ’s past financing from the mausoleum of political scandals.

Fico charged that SDKÚ is controlled by shell companies operating in tax havens while describing the financial operations of these companies as “money laundering”. He held a series of press conferences, pulling out the political dirt and throwing it in the face of SDKÚ and its leader at each one. And Fico said he has some more dirt to shovel while even suggesting that the information is so grave that he fears for his life – a statement resonating with some as symptomatic of the early paranoia exhibited by former PM Mečiar who found some kind of joy in saying that some unidentified people were after him.

Nevertheless, Dzurinda hasn’t been able to wash the dirt off his party’s logo, while the weight of so many unanswered questions made the party faithful’s knees tremble, leaving party elders unsure about its ability to mount a decent run in the June elections.

Thus, Dzurinda abandoned his top spot on the party’s candidate list. And it was neither a grand departure nor an authentic one – but it was a departure. Even though the exit was long overdue, the timing of Fico’s attacks could have been much worse. If he had started slinging the mud just one month before the elections, SDKÚ might well have been in much bigger trouble.

And most probably Fico did not want events to go quite this far, as Dzurinda’s departure at this point may not really be in Fico’s best interest. In fact, he told journalists that “it worked very well for you to bring down Dzurinda so that you can support someone who will be more effective in fighting against us. This is the whole basis of your fight with Dzurinda so do not pretend that you have done just work,” said Fico, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Somewhat paradoxically, Iveta Radičová, the former SDKÚ presidential candidate and onetime labour minister, might be more successful in paving the party’s path to better results.

Even her “senseless mistake”, when she voted in parliament on behalf of a party colleague and then resigned her deputy mandate to reconcile her momentary lapse of reason with the ethical standards she was trumpeting in her presidential campaign, might now work in her favour. She did prove that she was able to take responsibility for her personal failures. Indeed, her chance to return to high-level politics might now have come.

Of course, SDKÚ party members may opt for Ivan Mikloš, known as Dzurinda’s right-hand man, which would basically mean that the party leaders have decided for almost no change. After all, the SDKÚ has repeatedly missed its opportunities to nurture new party leaders, a characteristic shared by most Slovak political parties. And there is far too little time to test Radičová’s abilities to unify differing interests in the party or to handle eventual pressures by party fathers.

And yet, Fico deserves tough political opponents: not only for the pot of controversies his government has cooked up, seasoned with names like Interblue Group, mixed in with a tender hung on a bulletin board and topped off with judges fearing harassment from the president of the Supreme Court, but also for bringing politicians like Ján Slota and Vladimír Mečiar back into the government – making Slovakia’s road to more decent politics even bumpier.

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