Weak choices weaken bonds

FRAGILE is a good word for an amphora but a very bad one for a ruling coalition, especially if “fragile” refers to the balance of influence between the ruling parties and the opposition.

FRAGILE is a good word for an amphora but a very bad one for a ruling coalition, especially if “fragile” refers to the balance of influence between the ruling parties and the opposition.

The departure of former Bratislava mayor Andrej Ďurkovský from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) is yet another reminder for the ruling coalition led by Iveta Radičová of what careful handling the coalition requires and how serious the consequences can be if coalition parties make poor choices when selecting their deputies.

The ruling coalition was doomed to live with a fragile majority from its very inception, when the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), KDH, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Most-Híd decided to form a counter-balance to Robert Fico’s muscular Smer. A fragile majority seems almost to be part of the genetic code of parties that oppose political forces like Smer. The latter still appeals to slightly less than half of the nation, while the other half, plus 10 to 15 percent, seems torn between parties which are somewhat better for voters than Smer but lack its populist appeal.

Yet if members of such broad coalitions allow people with dubious baggage to run on their tickets they store up problems for the whole coalition. Potential problems with deputies’ lack of credibility surfaced during last year’s ill-fated vote to choose a new general prosecutor, in which at least six ruling coalition deputies voted with Smer to have Dobroslav Trnka re-selected for the post despite the fact that Radičová had said she would quit if Trnka stayed. If the knife-to-her-back vote wasn’t coordinated by a specific party, which would be an even worse situation for the coalition, then it still shows that the coalition parties cannot rely on their own deputies.

With Ďurkovský leaving the KDH but keeping his MP’s mandate all the ruling coalition gets is a feeble promise of support, with no real obligation for the lone runner – who in fact would probably have been expelled from the Christian Democrats had he not decided to leave. Ďurkovský said that he would address all the unanswered questions and then return. However, political experience shows that those explanations, even if they transpire, will not wash away the doubts and will leave a kind of stain on the party until it goes through a substantial self-cleansing. And parties, by their nature, rarely do that. Radičová said she hopes that Ďurkovský, who now becomes the first independent deputy in this parliament, will continue to vote in favour of government legislation.

Ďurkovský should not have been given the chance to run for the KDH. This became especially clear after Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, who is also a deputy chair of the KDH, called on Ďurkovský to give up his mandate, telling the Sme daily that even “our people at the city hall had serious problems with the conduct of the mayor”. What in the end broke Ďurkovský’s political neck was the so-called hidden privatisation of the Bratislava water utility BVS shortly before last year’s municipal elections. Also, a legal analysis has shown that Ďurkovský far exceeded his authority when he approved the demolition of Bratislava’s old cultural centre, PKO. However, Ďurkovský was one of the founding members of the KDH, and party boss Ján Figeľ has proved rather reluctant to state unambiguously that this is the end of Ďurkovský’s role in the party.

Political parties in Slovakia keep resuscitating people whose performance in various posts is less than convincing. One way to do this is to put them on the candidate list of the party. This is how one of the infamous Slovak National Party ministers who “gave” Slovakia its best-known scandals of recent years has come to be on the public payroll again, as an MP.

Now, making the fragile majority even frailer, the Ordinary People faction within SaS is also trying to pull some strings to prove that it has a say in how the coalition should evolve.

While a fragile majority is sometimes sufficiently healthy to prevent a single party or a single leader from metamorphosing into a political egomaniac, it also prevents political parties from focusing tightly on legislation and makes many laws issues of political compromise rather than public good.

Perhaps the parties should take more seriously both the process of self-purification, as well as ending their habit of treating parliament as a kind of purgatory where they can deposit people who have outstayed their welcome in other public posts or who need to be rewarded.

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