SaS-KDH spat resolved – for now

THE RULING coalition appears to have resolved yet another internal crisis – at least for the time being. The latest spat erupted after seven deputies of one party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), helped the opposition to vote down a major law drafted by another coalition party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which among other things would have increased fines for illegal construction projects.

THE RULING coalition appears to have resolved yet another internal crisis – at least for the time being. The latest spat erupted after seven deputies of one party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), helped the opposition to vote down a major law drafted by another coalition party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which among other things would have increased fines for illegal construction projects.

The KDH called the act a blatant violation of the ruling coalition agreement, while the dissenting SaS members gave at least two differing interpretations for their actions: some said they had voted against the law by mistake and others claimed the KDH draft had imperfections.

Commentators suggested that the move was a warning for the KDH, which had previously attacked SaS proposals. Some in the KDH even suggested that SaS MPs had been pressured by lobbyists to vote the law down.

Nevertheless, after a lengthy July 1 ruling coalition meeting the parties announced that the crisis was over and that the entire SaS deputy caucus would support the draft at the next vote. SaS leader Richard Sulík, also speaker of parliament, apologised to KDH leader Ján Figeľ, who is also transport minister and is responsible for the construction law, for the law’s demise.

“I have accepted the explanation as well as the apology and even the assurance that we will abide by the rules and coalition agreements,” Figeľ told the SITA newswire.

Seven deputies of the SaS did not back the revision to the Construction Act on June 30. The head of the SaS deputy caucus, Jozef Kollár, immediately announced that it had been a mistake and that he had instructed the party’s MPs to vote for the draft. However, SaS deputy Szilárd Somogyi said he had deliberately abstained from the vote and referred to objections to the draft raised by the Slovak Association of Towns and Villages.

The revision to the Construction Act is intended to change the treatment of illegal construction sites and would grant the state greater powers to penalise not only those who finance such structures but also those who build and oversee them.

According to Béla Bugár, the chairman of another coalition party, Most-Híd, the voting by SaS deputies was politically motivated and clashes between the liberal party and the more conservative Christian Democrats lay behind it. The chairman of the KDH parliamentary caucus, Pavol Hrušovský, said, as reported by the Sme daily, that his party feels that certain people in parliament are intertwined with developers. Hrušovský also added that SaS cannot endlessly provoke and that its politicians must work out whether they want to be part of the coalition. Sulík called the KDH response hysterical.

“Of course it wasn’t a mistake,” political scientist Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, leaning towards the interpretation that it was a kind of warning for the KDH which suggested: “We also have some weapons that we are able to use if you go against us.”

According to Kusý, the alternative interpretation, of pressures from lobbyists, cannot be excluded either, but he noted that SaS boss Sulík had pledged to fix the problem when the law next comes before parliament.

The president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, Grigorij Mesežnikov, pointed to the fact that three members of the SaS deputy caucus provided different interpretations for the situation, which does not suggest the highest level of political professionalism within the party. He said that such a situation would be less likely to occur within a well-established party.

Mesežnikov said he did not think that SaS had reasoned objections to the law or that the deputies had merely erred, opining that seven deputies would not simultaneously make the same mistake. Instead, he suggested, it was a response to the KDH approach to some of the legislation tailored and supported by SaS.

“SaS hit back, but they haven’t done it well,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “They have only deepened the mistrust which already rules the parties.”

According to Mesežnikov, SaS had not set out any clear objections to the construction law revision, which is part of the government’s programme, before turning it down.

“It should have been a signal for the KDH, but they [SaS] have done it in a very clumsy way,” Mesežnikov said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Iveta Radičová stated that conflicts occur now and then in a coalition but that she is convinced that the ties in this one are firmly rooted and will not be shattered, adding that a spark of love as well as a spark of tension is possible among partners with good relationships, SITA reported.

As for tensions between the conservative KDH and the liberal SaS, Kusý said that the ideological factor is quite important, and is reflected in the programmes of both parties, adding that such things can be like a red rag to a bull, especially when it comes to the KDH and SaS’ opposing takes on gay rights and abortion.

Kusý noted that SaS is still a young party which is seeking a stable position on the political scene. He said SaS inclines to a liberal position, one which has been missing on the political stage, but pondered how successful the party will be over the longer term given that it has not really succeeded in pushing through anything that it promised its voters.

“Paradoxically, the parties have had a conflict over an area where there should not really be any clash between conservatives and liberals,” Mesežnikov said.

However, he also added that since the parties have positioned themselves as actors in a cultural-ethical dispute, then this is reflected partly in their relations and partly through the decisions they make.

Mesežnikov said that disputes between conservatives and liberals over issues such as reproductive rights, family values or partnerships testify to the broader normalisation of Slovakia’s political scene. Yet, issues of economic development and other technocratic subjects should not provide space for clashes, he added.

“I consider the fact that SaS and the KDH had a problem with the construction law as something completely inappropriate,” Mesežnikov said. “This is not a fight between conservatives and liberals but is precisely the result of their troubled relations.”

The KDH and SaS have both objected to what they say is the other party’s willingness to push through their interests with the help of the opposition. KDH deputies during the May session of parliament failed to support a law on burial services, or legislation regulating the care of children by divorced parents. Part of SaS, on the other hand, did not support a gambling ban proposed by the KDH, while the Christian Democrats are pursuing a ban on the sale of goods during public holidays with the help of the opposition Smer party, SITA wrote.

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