The Radičová Code

POLITICAL conspiracy theories do have a certain irresistible charm and Smer boss Robert Fico is not the kind of politician who can resist them, especially when an elaborate plot can secure what he desires as much as power: widespread publicity.

POLITICAL conspiracy theories do have a certain irresistible charm and Smer boss Robert Fico is not the kind of politician who can resist them, especially when an elaborate plot can secure what he desires as much as power: widespread publicity.

The ‘Radičová Code’ is not a cryptic message from a secret society revealing the genesis of political power in Slovakia but rather Fico’s theory on how the ruling coalition managed to keep four or so members of parliament from casting their ballots for the re-selection of Dobroslav Trnka as general prosecutor, as some had done in December 2010. Prime Minister Iveta Radičová threatened to resign if Trnka were to win a subsequent vote, offering many reasons why he was no longer suitable for that important post.

So what is the Radičová Code? According to Fico, it is eighteen ballots marked through diagonally, reportedly by MPs from the Freedom and Solidarity party while the MPs from Most-Híd invalidated theirs with horizontal marks. The Ordinary People MPs ticked both the ‘abstain’ and ‘against’ boxes on the ballot while MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) actually voted against Trnka and MPs from the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) abstained. Since Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík made sure that all the ballots were shredded, we cannot expect a symbologist from Harvard, or even the Slovak Academy of Sciences, to further unravel the mysteries of the Radičová Code.

Though Pavol Hrušovský, the caucus chair of the Christian Democratic Movement, responded that Fico’s theory could “be made up only by extraterrestrial creatures,” Fico remained confident that the mathematical calculations underpinning his theory were irrefutable.

This theatre of the absurd shows perfectly why an open, recorded vote is a much better method in Slovakia’s current political atmosphere, when MPs try to turn it into a virtue when they say they voted in a secret ballot in the way they had previously agreed or that they had not broken their solemn agreement while voting under the cloak of anonymity.

What has changed since the December vote when at least four ruling coalition MPs must have voted along with Fico’s Smer to return Trnka to the prosecutor’s office for another seven years? Perhaps those MPs who thought at that time that they could make some political bargain if Radičová resigned have now realised that they would have lost even more than Slovakia’s first woman prime minister.

The result of the May 17 vote, however, has not given the members of parliament more integrity or turned them into better public servants. What might change in the future though is that Radičová might become much more careful about using the threat of resignation as a tool to push through what she thinks is right for her government. If used too frequently this tool will not only lose its sharpness but also implant a feeling of instability even in people who consider the prime minister the main reason why they would, for example, support the SDKÚ, the party that in many ways still treats her as something of an outsider, who just by some strange coincidence happened to become the party’s most popular (and trusted) face in the eyes of the Slovak public.

Nevertheless, this saga of choosing the country’s next prosecutor is not yet anywhere close to its end. The next chapter, which has just started, might bring some further surprises: the ruling coalition might for some reason again fail to give unanimous support to their announced, joint candidate – that is, of course, if the four parties can still agree that they will have a joint candidate. Some coalition voices are already questioning whether it should continue to be Jozef Čentéš, who in a last-minute move withdrew his candidacy. The parties are now faced with the knotty question of what to do next.

It is also highly unlikely that this was the last appearance by Dobroslav Trnka on the political stage. If he follows Fico’s advice he might again challenge the May 17 vote in the Constitutional Court, which might then once again order another curtain call in the secret-ballot melodrama.

How much easier everything would be if the Slovak political elite were to follow just a few simple rules: first, those who enter powerful public positions should recognise that a point can come when it is one’s time to leave the political stage; and second, the acts of MPs should match their words, negating the need for a veil of anonymity when making a decision in parliament that will fundamentally affect the country’s ethical standards for the next seven years.

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