Rock the boat if you must, but do it in public

CONSUMERS of Slovak news might fairly respond with nausea at being served up one more commentary on the repeated attempts by parliament to pick the man or woman who will serve as general prosecutor for the next seven years.

CONSUMERS of Slovak news might fairly respond with nausea at being served up one more commentary on the repeated attempts by parliament to pick the man or woman who will serve as general prosecutor for the next seven years.

Since it has been clear for some time that the vote is no longer about incumbent Dobroslav Trnka and his huge appetite for remaining in the job for the next seven years, or about whoever happens to be his challenger, but about a blow delivered by its own deputies to the right-wing ruling coalition – one which will affect how it operates for the rest of its term – this publication will risk one more “prosecutor piece”.

In any parliament, let alone Slovakia’s house of lawmakers, a slim majority brings with it constant struggle, attempts to impose party discipline, uncertainty, and a temptation on the part of the opposition to change the “beliefs” of their colleagues on the other side. The current coalition is trying to coordinate the interests of four parties while dealing with an opposition leader with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for power.

Fragile majorities also offer up situations in which a handful of deputies – in this case not more than five or six – can seriously rock the stability of the ruling coalition and have a much stronger impact than at other times.

The December 2 vote to select the general prosecutor, in which at least six ruling-coalition deputies voted for Trnka despite their parties having agreed to back another candidate, Jozef Čentéš, and despite Prime Minister Iveta Radičová having made clear that she would resign were Trnka to be re-selected, has removed any confidence that the members of the ruling coalition would not risk its stability.

The fact that at least six ruling coalition deputies voted with the opposition has sown the seeds of distrust and opened the door to all kinds of speculation about who might have benefitted from the fall of the government. This distrust will change the way the ruling coalition organises future votes on crucial issues and perhaps also the “independence” and freedom to exercise “common sense” that parties have previously granted their deputies.

Perhaps it is too early for opposition leader Robert Fico to send out invitations to his celebratory party quite yet, but this fiasco will certainly have boosted his hopes that the ruling coalition will simply choke before long, perhaps over something quite banal, now that its fragility has been laid bare.

Nevertheless, whoever wanted Radičová to fall made a serious miscalculation, because her credibility has not suffered as a result of the December 2 vote and she will possibly attract even more sympathy from voters than she did before.

The real harm that the would-be assassins have done is to further deepen the mistrust and disillusionment among the public at the way some of their elected representatives understand the value of promises, openness and honesty. They would probably argue, if they were not hiding behind the anonymity of the vote, that they were entitled to vote for Trnka. But in the same way, their voters are entitled to know what made it worth their while to threaten the stability of the coalition, since it had been clear for some time that the vote was also about Radičová.

There is now much talk about the coalition’s intention to turn the vote on the prosecutor and other public officials from a secret ballot into an open vote, with many arguing that the change would rob deputies of an important tool of democracy. Yet the parliaments of other democracies seem to function pretty well without resorting to this particular tool. Like other countries' voters, Slovakia’s electorate needs answers to questions like ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ in order to make informed decisions at the next parliamentary elections – since ‘trust’ is not a word which is likely to have wide currency in Slovak politics, at least for a while yet.

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