EDITORIAL

The ministerial chessboard

NOTHING reveals as much about the anatomy of power as the negotiations to form a governing coalition. Under the veil of handshakes, smiles and declarations of soon-to-come better times, government posts are turned into chess pieces in a complex game where each party is determined to control the best parts of the board. Yet not everyone can do so.

NOTHING reveals as much about the anatomy of power as the negotiations to form a governing coalition. Under the veil of handshakes, smiles and declarations of soon-to-come better times, government posts are turned into chess pieces in a complex game where each party is determined to control the best parts of the board. Yet not everyone can do so.



Since this year’s parliamentary elections left Smer boss Robert Fico without a ruling coalition partner and eradicated the possibility of applying a 'winner takes all' approach, another strategy that 'everyone gets something' has emerged in the game that unfolded over recent weeks.

Since Mikuláš Dzurinda, the chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) had to pass his prime ministerial dream on to Iveta Radičová after Fico reopened a rusty box of suspicions about SDKÚ financing deals, he got the top diplomacy job. Radičová’s rival from SDKÚ’s primaries, Ivan Mikloš, was dispatched to the Finance Ministry for a second time. This meant, however, that Richard Sulík, the boss of the greenhorn Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), who has often been dubbed the father of Slovakia’s flat tax, could not drop his bags at the same ministry, leaving his party to agree that speaker of parliament would suffice.

This, however, left Ján Figeľ, of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), quite unsatisfied that the speaker’s post had been plopped into someone else’s lap. A tough call, but the governing quartet managed to compensate Figeľ by beefing up the powers of the old Ministry of Transport, Telecommunications and Posts to satisfy KDH desires.

Now Figeľ heads off to a new superministry, the Ministry of Transport, Tourism and Regional Development, which siphons off power from other departments such as the Culture Ministry and the now-defunct Construction Ministry. There Figeľ will have his fingers on the flow of European Union money. Anyone who controls these arteries of EU funds has real power and understandably the SDKÚ wanted to keep touch with this money flow too and it was agreed they can do so through Radičová’s Government Office.

Now the fourth party sitting at the dining table, Most-Híd, also needed to be fully satisfied. Its boss, Béla Bugár, managed to cut quite a slice of cake when he convinced his coalition partners to nod to the idea of pumping up the position of deputy prime minister for national minorities and human rights by giving the deputy direct control over real money. Most-Híd had previously said it wasn’t interested in what was called the ‘virtual post’ occupied by Smer’s Dušan Čaplovič. Critics charged that Čaplovič’s position with the pretentious title of deputy prime minister for a knowledge-based economy, European affairs, human rights and minorities was nothing more than a ceremonial smokescreen for Slovakia’s minorities rather than a post designed to do anything of real benefit for them.

A position with real power pursuing a real agenda would be an absolute tonic for Slovakia’s minorities, like iron pills for an anaemic, after the past four years of government policies seasoned by the chauvinism of the Slovak National Party. But then comes the nomination of one-time culture minister Rudolf Chmel for the post – perhaps not the best choice for the seat – raising the question of whether he will use well the potential of the new position.

There are some other lingering mystery nominations that have journalists scratching their heads for the answer to 'why'. Most-Híd floated the idea that Martin Ružinský, a member of the board of directors of pipeline operator Transpetrol, would be a good person to manage the environmental agenda. It is not that Ružinský might lack contacts with those who deal with environmental issues but perhaps that the perspective of his contacts might not bode well for what most countries envision as the focus of their environmental policies.

On July 8 it seemed that the nomination of Ľubomír Galko, previously a retail chain manager, to head the Defence Ministry would sail through under the condition that he submits an English language proficiency certificate to the prime minister by mid October. One cannot not envy Galko, who after the speculation about his nomination and what journalists have called his obvious lack of relevant experience will face intense media scrutiny for at least his first 100 days in office.



Nevertheless, even with some rather fascinating nominations and last-minute-made ministries, the incoming government of Iveta Radičová offers hope for more decency in politics, more transparency in handling public money, more fairness in tenders, and a new openness in the judiciary. It also proffers the promise that Slovakia’s minorities will no longer be looked upon as troublemakers or nests for separatist desires but simply as citizens who want to call this country their home with the option of saying either “domov” or “haza” and to speak it anywhere or anytime they want without facing scorn, discrimination, or penalties.


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