The lonely ‘white knight’

“MAYBE you all think that we are now crying and are all trembling that we will lose our government BMWs and similar things, but it is not so.” This is how Smer leader Robert Fico responded to the results of the parliamentary election.

“MAYBE you all think that we are now crying and are all trembling that we will lose our government BMWs and similar things, but it is not so.” This is how Smer leader Robert Fico responded to the results of the parliamentary election.

This is not a very typical statement for a leader whose party picked up the most votes and improved its performance from the last parliamentary vote by some 6 percent. But this is how Smer is talking now that its four-year rule with the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has come to an end.

Fico has always found much pleasure in projecting an image of a lonely ‘white knight’ being cunningly attacked by a colourful assortment of enemies of his “socially-oriented” way of helping his supporters. Well, now he can wallow in the “solitude of victors”, towering high over his former coalition partner, Ján Slota, and his SNS party’s paltry nine seats in parliament after just narrowly getting another key to parliament’s doors. Slota says he has wide-open arms, willing to stretch far enough to support a coalition between Smer and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

But Fico has not even mentioned Slota as a coalition partner and, paradoxically, at this point there is no one else willing to wed Fico and carry his four years of baggage packed with hot-air and bulletin-board scandals and ministerial heads rolling from too-close-to-ignore charges of cronyism and corruption. Any potential partner would also have to accept other wedding gifts such as the Press Code restraining a free press, a controversial State Language Act and a newly amended law on citizenship which is poised to strip anyone who voluntarily applies for Hungarian citizenship of their Slovak passport. There could be a few more secret surprises left by the outgoing coalition but these may only surface after some high-level bureaucrats get reshuffled at ministries and state offices.

Vladimír Mečiar disappeared both symbolically and physically after the election, leaving HZDS exactly where he alone pushed the party: to the very edge of its political grave. Who will then cater to the HZDS voters? Most probably they will end up at Fico’s table, potentially sending Smer in a different direction just as the food one consumes has an influence on the body.

It had not been officially confirmed as The Slovak Spectator went to print whether a centre-right coalition between the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), the KDH and the Most-Híd party would form the next government. But that seemed to be the likely next step and some of their first statements about, for example, cleaning up the judiciary, resuscitating the second, private pillar of the pension system, and changing the way that MPs must declare their personal property, have already made some people nervous.

Without slipping into false optimism, one must stress that some of these kinds of issues, like limiting a deputy’s immunity or publishing more information on deals that involve public money, have been on the table of various governments, including those of centre-right parties, without citizens ever seeing any real progress.

While Fico said that he would not beg any party for a partnership, he has been knocking on the doors of his political opponents. According to unconfirmed reports, he even offered the prime minister’s seat along with a bunch of ministries to any party that would help Smer stay in power. Most likely he is doing so not only to quench his own thirst for power but also to prevent party sponsors from turning their backs on him, as a party sitting on the opposition benches can hardly offer any lucrative government deals.

Many wonder how life in the opposition might change Robert Fico. For example, would he seek to change his troubled relationship with the media? Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov says that it is not entirely out of the question that Fico might try to mend some ties. “He very skilfully used the media before 2006,” Mesežnikov said. “However, the media are now in a different position and the past four years cannot just be erased. The media will certainly ask him questions that he failed to answer during his election term.”

Among the tougher tasks that a new ruling coalition will face is how to curb the powers of Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin or how to remove him completely from the judiciary. Jana Dubovcová, now a SDKÚ deputy and formerly a judge who got a personal taste of Harabin-style judicial management, told the Sme daily that parliament first needs to amend the constitution to show Harabin to the door. Perhaps such an initiative will give Fico a chance to demonstrate what positions he will take with HZDS no longer sitting on his shoulder.

It is unfortunate that people like Harabin who were given the opportunity to climb into high-level posts under the Smer-HZDS-SNS coalition are not forced to leave instantly. What a beautiful picture it would have been to see Mečiar and Harabin walking away hand-in-hand to write their memoirs.

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