SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Kokaín

THE TOP word this week should be “referendum”. After all, it’s not that often that people get a taste of direct democracy. But Saturday’s nationwide plebiscite is not drawing any attention. Even the unconventional idea of parliamentary speaker Richard Sulík taking a drug test to prove he hasn’t been to any wild cocaine parties lately, as opposition leader Robert Fico hinted, is more interesting than the voting. Why is it, that a non-existent cocaine scandal can beat Sulík’s referendum? There are several reasons:

THE TOP word this week should be “referendum”. After all, it’s not that often that people get a taste of direct democracy. But Saturday’s nationwide plebiscite is not drawing any attention. Even the unconventional idea of parliamentary speaker Richard Sulík taking a drug test to prove he hasn’t been to any wild cocaine parties lately, as opposition leader Robert Fico hinted, is more interesting than the voting. Why is it, that a non-existent cocaine scandal can beat Sulík’s referendum? There are several reasons:

1. Slovakia has a bad history of referenda. Out of the six plebiscites held since the country gained independence in 1993, four failed because of low turn-out and one was mired by the government. And the one on EU entry attracted just barely enough voters to meet the 50-percent attendance requirement. Even the biggest enthusiasts must be sceptical about the chances of this referendum. Especially given the latest opinion polls that indicate only a fifth of citizens are planning to take part.

2. The questions are inappropriate. Stripping MPs of their immunity against prosecution is a legitimate point. But setting price limits for government limousines? The question about getting rid of concessions used to finance public broadcasters most likely violates the constitutional ban on referenda dealing with “taxes or deductions”. Introducing internet voting in a country where buying votes is already standard practice is a tricky matter. Changing the press law is a fine goal, but even Sulík’s own culture minister now says that media legislation is not such a huge priority.

3. There’s little enthusiasm among the ruling elite. Ján Figeľ, head of the Christian Democratic Movement, says he will have better things to do than voting in the referendum. SDKÚ chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda refuses to say what he’ll do. And these two are both Sulík’s coalition partners. The opposition has instructed its supporters not to vote and President Gašparovič is being mysterious about what he thinks about the matter. Not an approach which would inspire the masses.

4. Even the organisers don’t seem convinced. The referendum was planned as a marketing tool for Sulík’s SaS party. Now it’s in government and the plebiscite has lost its meaning even to those who conceived it. The SaS is running a modest billboard and internet campaign but has not done any actual face-to-face campaigning and even missed the deadline for sending its representative to the Central Referendum Committee, which is supposed to oversee the event.

The country should admit it has a problem and kick its bad habit: the one of holding absurd referenda.


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