ROBERT Fico has introduced his 16-member shadow cabinet to the public. Nevertheless, its shadow ministers will also live in Fico’s shadow and it is unlikely that any of them will independently put counterproposals on the table in response to initiatives by the governing coalition. The boss of Smer is perfectly suited for the post of shadow prime minister and he will fully use this opportunity to create the impression that if anything unpopular happens, he and his shadow ministers are ready to take over.
Fico is perhaps even better suited for the post of shadow prime minister than sitting prime minister since even when he sat in the PM’s chair between 2006 and 2010 he never shook off some of the manners of an opposition politician, maintaining a confrontational tone that divided rather than united Slovak society.
Does Fico’s new shadow cabinet represent any signs of self-reflection after Smer was forced to move into opposition? Not many.
It is true that not all of Fico’s past darlings and protégées have made it into the shadow cabinet and will thus remain in the darkened corners of political life. For example, former labour minister Viera Tomanová – the mother of Slovakia’s infamous social companies, questionable enough to motivate auditors from Brussels to come to Slovakia to have a closer look – is not part of the shadow crew. But when asked about his former guardian of social policies, Fico said that he still trusts her even though she left office having to explain why she signed a lavish contract with one of the institutions operating under her ministry that would have guaranteed her extra income of up to €60,000 until 2013.
“Ms Tomanová has always had my trust,” Fico told the Sme daily, saying that “she has incredible sympathy for social issues” but that he now needs someone who can coordinate social policies from a certain distance.
But Fico did decide to bring back a short-lived agriculture minister from his government – Stanislav Becík, who will forever be remembered for travelling around Slovakia by horse-drawn carriage while writing naive poetry in praise of the country’s farmers.
Most members of the “good old team” from 2006 to 2010 are now part of the shadow cabinet. Marek Maďarič, the father of Slovakia’s internationally-criticised Press Code will watch over cultural issues. Dušan Čaplovič, who after his less-than-inspiring performance as deputy prime minister for minorities and human rights, will keep his eye on the education agenda. And Fico’s former finance master, Ján Počiatek, returns – along with his almost forgotten little story of yachting in Monte Carlo with a financial tycoon in the run–up to the introduction of the euro and the subsequent buzz that their chats might have been about something more than the colour of the sea or the quality of the champagne.
Under certain conditions a shadow cabinet can be a healthy counterbalance that exercises oversight on the policies of the sitting government and provides expertise from those who have had previous ministerial experience. We will see whether that will be the outcome here in Slovakia between 2011 and 2014.
If one is to trust Fico’s words then one of the first issues facing his new shadow labour minister, Zuzana Zvolenská, who according to Sme daily serves as a manager for a private health insurer, will be changes in Slovakia’s Labour Code that have been advanced by the governing coalition. Fico described this issue as being as important for Smer as abortion would be for the Christian Democratic Movement.
Fico, indeed, seems to have sympathy for the petition started by the trade union confederation against changes to the Labour Code, a petition that may lead to a referendum vote some time this year. The unions are demanding a 35-hour working week, down from 40 hours, with no reduction in pay and they expect hundreds of thousands of people to sign their petition. Though Fico had some kind of deal with the unions which garnered past support for his party, he can now simply wait and see what kind of mass appeal the petition will find and how he might use the “vox populi” in various ways in the coming years.
Certainly changes in the labour legislation offer Fico a huge playground for rhetorical exercises and perhaps the only thing he might be regretting right now is that the Radičová government did not choose to pursue these changes just a couple of months before the next parliamentary election.
24. Jan 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová