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Democracy gets an average grade

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia improved in the second half of 2010, according to the independent Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). For the first time since 2008, the overall quarterly grade it awards for the level of democracy in the country, as judged by the institute’s Barometer survey, dropped below 3.

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia improved in the second half of 2010, according to the independent Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). For the first time since 2008, the overall quarterly grade it awards for the level of democracy in the country, as judged by the institute’s Barometer survey, dropped below 3.

Slovak democracy was graded at 2.8 for the last quarter of 2010, using the same scoring scale employed by Slovak schools, in which 1 is excellent and 5 is failing. The 2.8 grade represented an improvement of 0.3 points. The overall average rating of the quality of democracy for 2010 was 3.2 according to the IVO Barometer, an improvement of 0.1 points compared to 2009.

“The last quarter of the past year in the political democracy of Slovakia was marked by the continuation and deepening of trends that were launched after the ruling Smer-SNS-HZDS coalition was replaced by the SDKÚ-SaS-KDH-Most/Híd coalition following the parliamentary elections in 2010,” an IVO press release stated. “Changes in practically all the evaluated areas had positive dynamics, which put an end to the consistent worsening of the rating which had been recorded since the start of the IVO Barometer project in 2008.”

The IVO Barometer evaluates the quality of democracy in Slovakia on a quarterly basis in five key areas: democratic institutions and a lawful state; legislation; protection and respect for human and minority rights; media freedom and public-service media; and the transatlantic and European integration aspects of foreign policy.

Experts define the criteria and then assign numerical ratings for each domain (except for foreign policy) and from these calculate an overall average.

IVO stated that although the overall rating for 2010 improved in comparison with the previous year, it has still to reach the score recorded at the start of the project in 2008.

“Of course it would be ideal to get the best grade, 1, in all the areas,” Grigorij Mesežnikov, the president of IVO, told the press conference. “But that would be idealistic. I can only say that we started evaluating the state of political democracy in Slovakia in 2008 with a rating of 2.6. That was after all those inappropriate legislative measures. Today, the rating is 2.8, so it is still worse than it was when we started.”

In the democratic institutions and the rule of law category, democracy in the last quarter was given a grade of 2.75, a marked improvement compared to the whole-year average of 3.2.

Problems that remain in this area include the tense relations between the executive and the Supreme Court, as well as the failure to strip MPs and judges of their immunity from prosecution, IVO reported. The failed vote on the next general prosecutor was also politically significant, it noted.

Further improvement was recorded in the areas of legislation and minority rights, which scored 2.5 and 2.75 respectively, as opposed to the 3.0 grades both received in the previous quarter.

Media freedom was the only area where democracy’s grade did not pass 3.0 this quarter.

The survey’s authors point to the extremely short time which it took to pass the law to create RTVS and said there are several risks in the law, such as the unresolved financing of the public-service broadcaster, as well as moving responsibility for selection of its director back to parliament, “which gives rise to worries about attempts [to impose] political rule over the public-service media”.

According to IVO, the term of the previous government was rather damaging for the quality of democracy in Slovakia since, due to the measures that the Robert Fico-led government took in the area of democratic institutions and the rule of law, legislation, human and minority rights and free media, its quality worsened so much that the return to the values recorded in 2008 will take much longer than half a year.

“On top of that, it appears that the process of doing away with the deformations and negative consequences of problematic legislative measures keeps hitting certain obstacles even after the change of power,” the IVO Barometer report reads. “And so we must state that in some areas the situation in Slovakia is worse now than before the advent of the ruling coalition of Smer, SNS and HZDS, despite the ambitions of the new ruling parties to straighten those deformations.”

Smer, now the main opposition party, reacted by saying that IVO had long supported the current centre-right government. It had never tried to hide this, party spokesperson Silvia Glendová said.

What matters for the ranking, according to Mesežnikov, is the stability in the operation of constitutional institutions, relations between those institutions, how power is handled, the relations among political actors, how legislation is prepared, how human and minority rights are observed, the freedom of the media, and whether pressure is applied to the media.

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