IT HAD seemed that Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) had finally picked the right candidate to replace yet another state security chief who had been found to have a less-than-squeaky-clean history. Peter Paluda, a stern critic of Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin, initially appeared to be acceptable to all those who make up the country’s rather fragile ruling coalition: that rare public figure without any heavy or malodorous historical baggage.
When Prime Minister Iveta Radičová described Paluda as a good nomination, observers assumed that her party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), would follow her lead. But SDKÚ MPs’ decision to reject Paluda’s nomination has left observers wondering exactly why.
When SDKÚ caucus leader Jozef Mikuš told the media about the party’s decision he refused to specify any reason, stating only that it would ‘not be appropriate’ to make public statements on the matter. As of May 12 the SDKÚ remained silent. This silence sounds much worse than a straightforward explanation of the rejection. But that, of course, assumes that there is a straightforward reason, rather than murky party politics or fears among SDKÚ MPs that the party would not have sufficient control over the job or its holder.
The Sme daily noted that the deputies had received – as it also had – an anonymous letter about Paluda’s ‘family ties’ (Sme did not expand) and the allegedly communist past of his family. The daily also reported that the SDKÚ may consider Paluda to be too close to Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, even though his party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), is one of its coalition partners.
Given the initial support that Paluda received, if the SDKÚ does not provide an acceptable reason for its rejection of him it could be easily interpreted by the public to mean: we have our reasons, but they are none of your business. If they found a blemish in Paluda’s record that suddenly put all the previous information published about him in a different light, then they have a duty to tell us what it is.
Interestingly, Radičová on May 12, one day after her party had rejected his nomination, restated her own support for Paluda: “I consider him a principle-driven person and it [the rejection] does not change my attitude at all,” SITA reported her as saying.
Of course, there is speculation that the SDKÚ rejection was partly intended as a snub to Radičová. In some ways that interpretation is almost irresistible, following the controversial tax office rental deal involving a local SDKÚ official that led Radičová publicly to cross Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš. In that case, Radičová prevailed only after refusing to show up for a cabinet meeting and indirectly threatening to resign unless one of Mikloš’ appointees left office.
Allowing party in-fighting to influence appointments to crucial posts – Paluda was nominated to head the National Security Office (NBÚ), Slovakia’s main security vetting agency – could deal another serious blow to the image of the SDKÚ. And to the many who want this government to deal with serious issues – such as making public procurement more transparent and cleaning up the judiciary – such a scenario would come as a major disappointment.
All this is happening one week before a crucial secret ballot of MPs to select the next general prosecutor. If former incumbent Dobroslav Trnka, who has clearly stated his desire to return to the job for another seven years and is being backed by the opposition, is chosen then Radičová says she will resign.
This makes not only most of the ruling coalition but also those who had hoped for a stable government distinctly edgy. Her threat may not deter every ruling coalition deputy from voting for Trnka: on the contrary, it may serve the interests of those who could benefit from the chaotic fall of the government and encourage them to vote for him.
There are two answers to the question of who would benefit from such a situation, one obvious and the other more complicated. The easy answer is Smer leader Robert Fico; the more complicated one is those who want to see a weakened Radičová and who think that even if she resigns there will be some way to revamp the present government in order to secure greater prizes than they currently enjoy. It is a very tricky situation, because if they do vote for Trnka, they could find that they lose out completely, as would all those voters who paved their way to parliament, undeservedly so.
16. May 2011 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff