THE NEW ruling coalition suffered a minor crisis in late July, in the run-up to the parliamentary debate on the government’s programme statement. It erupted after a group of four MPs who call themselves Ordinary People and who sit within the parliamentary caucus of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), one of the four coalition parties, complained that none of their proposals had been included in the government programme.
The situation was resolved after Ordinary People and SaS set down their so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ on paper to prevent a similar situation from re-occurring.
Local media reported on July 28 that the four MPs grouped under the banner of the Ordinary People civic association would leave the SaS parliamentary caucus and the ruling coalition would thus lose its slim majority in the 150-member parliament. The Ordinary People MPs made it into parliament at the June election on the SaS slate by attracting enough individual preference votes to lift them from their position at the bottom of the party’s list.
Although the four immediately denied the media reports that they would leave the SaS caucus, they confirmed they were unhappy with the government’s programme statement because none of their proposals had made it into the document, they claimed.
Igor Matovič, one of the four MPs who has been acting as the group’s spokesperson, said Ordinary People would still support the government programme in parliament, despite the fact that they had “lost their confidence in the new centre-right four-party coalition”, the SITA newswire reported.
“Ordinary People have submitted 46 proposals all together, but the coalition, despite the personal promises of the speaker of parliament [SaS leader Richard Sulík] and the prime minister [Iveta Radičová], incorporated none of them into the programme statement,” Matovič said, as quoted by SITA.
The programme of Ordinary People included proposals such as banning businessmen who fail to pay wages, taxes and invoices from business activities for 10 years, and cutting individual MPs’ salaries by a certain amount each time they are absent from a vote in parliament. They also proposed random alcohol tests in parliament.
The Sme daily pointed out that some of Ordinary People’s requirements did, in fact, appear in the text of the programme statement, for example the proposal to limit the immunity of MPs, along with certain anti-corruption measures.
Happily ever after?
At first SaS refused to comment on the tensions, and accused Ordinary People merely of trying to attract public attention. But in the end SaS leader Richard Sulík sat down with the four MPs to discuss the situation.
On August 1, two days before parliament met to debate the government’s programme statement, the dispute was resolved in the form of a written agreement between SaS and Ordinary People. The document is intended to serve as the basis for future relations between the two groups, which were previously based on what Matovič called a ‘gentleman’s agreement’. According to him, this bound SaS to support Ordinary People proposals, in return for which Ordinary People promised neither to leave the party caucus nor to found their own party.
In the written agreement between SaS and Ordinary People Sulík said that the programme of his party would include those points from the Ordinary People programme of which the SaS approved.
“That is, I will make maximum effort to promote them within the coalition and at the first update of the government’s programme I will submit them to be included,” the document, which was signed on August 2, reads.
Ordinary People in turn gave a public promise that they would not quit the SaS caucus until the end of the government’s term, and that if they did they would give up their MPs’ mandates.
“We give this promise so that nobody ever doubts our support for the coalition again,” they wrote.
Matovič later wrote on his blog that he was happy with the result of the negotiations, since Ordinary People emerged from their first fight as the ones who had not lost face. He added that the coalition should not assume that the group’s MPs would remain silent until the end of the term.
“No, we only promised that if the coalition fulfils its promises, we will remain a part of the SaS caucus,” he wrote. He also claimed that the group around him will not let the people who formed the previous government – a reference to the current opposition parties, Smer and the Slovak National Party – “return to the trough”.
Smer leader Robert Fico criticised the agreement between SaS and Ordinary People as nonsense, because, he said, updating the programme statement would be impossible.
“A definite no turned into a definite yes and they covered it with a total political nonsense,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “Given this, the group of four MPs raises mistrust and legitimate questions about what kind of agreement theirs is.”
Fico hinted that Ordinary People might be the subject of an attempt by the ruling coalition to “buy” MPs. Earlier he had accused Matovič of merely increasing his price.
However, Matovič claimed such pressures are, in fact, coming from the opposition.
“If Mr Fico thinks we are increasing our price, I call on him not to send people from his Smer party with messages that they want to meet and talk,” Matovič said on July 29, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “Recently I got two such messages and I rejected both.”
What was the spat about?
Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov said he believes that Ordinary People’s aim in stirring up conflict between them and SaS was mainly to get publicity and make themselves more visible.
“I believe their aim is to establish themselves as a group with specific interests,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, admitting that they might be working towards establishing their own party in the future.
According to Mesežnikov, having a new, separate party whose members would remain part of the SaS caucus, is a normal situation. He also believes that politicians on both sides – SaS and Ordinary People – are still just beginners in politics and have learned from the recent crisis.
“I think SaS has realised that it is not in their interest to weaken their parliamentary caucus,” Mesežnikov said. “That is, they will most likely approach Ordinary People and their requirements differently in the future, and solve problems within the caucus rather than bringing them out into the public.”
9. Aug 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani