THE VOTE on the key legislation of the year, the revision to the Labour Code, stirred tensions within the ruling coalition and prompted a round of claim and counter-claim among parliamentary parties.
The drama started before the vote itself, when deputies from the ruling Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) blocked three out of four proposals tabled by independent MP Igor Matovič, who among other things had sought to change the code to give employees the option of choosing between meal vouchers and cash payments.
Matovič at first threatened that his four-strong Ordinary People parliamentary faction – all of whom, apart from Matovič himself, are members of the ruling Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) caucus – would vote against the Labour Code amendment. But then on July 13 they all left the parliamentary chamber, allowing the bill to pass. If the four MPs had stayed and voted against it, the ruling coalition would not have had enough votes to push the bill through.
The bill, which introduces significant changes to the Labour Code – and which was last modified under the previous government, led by Robert Fico – received the votes of 74 MPs on July 13, with 70 MPs voting against, and no abstentions.
Smer boss Fico blamed Matovič and his Ordinary People for the passage of the legislation, which he said damaged the interests of employees. Fico said that the group had not acted in a principled manner by letting the bill pass and “used real ordinary people to wipe their behinds” even though they had stated they would withhold support if their particular demands were not met.
In return Matovič suggested that the ruling coalition made an agreement with Smer and the Slovak National Party (SNS) so that they would remain in the hall, saying that if the opposition had left the hall, parliament would not have had a quorum: at least half of all MPs must be present for a law to pass.
“Fico wants to have the Labour Code passed, because if it does not pass then he would not have a topic to scorn and would not have any agenda,” Matovič said, as quoted by SITA.
Both Smer and SNS denied having made any agreement with the ruling coalition.
Nevertheless, Darina Malová, head of the Department of Political Sciences at Comenius University, sees a compromise in the way Matovič acted during the vote, which allowed the code to pass.
“Political compromises are part of the politicians’ process of maturing,” Malová told The Slovak Spectator. “He understood that he would have been left holding the baby if this very serious change had not gone through.”
The bill needs to be signed by President Ivan Gašparovič to become effective as planned on September 1, 2011. Members of the governing coalition have already expressed doubts whether Gašparovič will sign the bill into law.
Malová would not speculate on how Matovič might act if the president sends the code back to parliament, suggesting that he is a very unpredictable politician and hence very hard to read.
“He has small proposals on which he has built his agenda,” Malová said, adding that he can easily change his position.
The voucher spat
Matovič accused the coalition parties of selling out, claiming they had promised to support his proposals but then let him down. He threatened that if two ruling coalition parties, namely the SDKÚ and KDH, did not change their approach, his faction might not guarantee to support proposals produced by these parties in future.
Matovič said, as quoted by the Sme daily, that “some people will become very rich” but did not explain what he meant, or provide any evidence to substantiate his suggestion of impropriety.
In response to Matovič’s claim, Béla Bugár, the leader of ruling coalition party Most-Híd, said he did not think that deputies had been bought.
“I can imagine that there was some lobbying, but this is a harsh thing to say [that they were bought] and I don’t think this was the case,” Bugár said, as quoted by TASR.
In the final version of the law, a proposal by SDKÚ deputy Ľudovít Kaník was approved to limit the revenues of meal-voucher providers, which could mean their incomes will fall.
Arguments over the Labour Code had not completely died down before Matovič pulled out another topic: partisan nominations to state positions.
“I am accusing of corruption all the political parties which gained more than 3 percent in the elections,” Matovič said on July 18. He went on to claim that the parties are abusing their power to nominate appointees to public positions in order to reward their sponsors and people who have been distributing flyers for them; he stated that professional qualifications were not considered in the appointments.
Matovič also alleged that after it promised to publish a list of political nominees, his faction has been threatened by one ruling coalition party. The party, he said, promised to support mass lawsuits against Ordinary People by named nominees.
Matovič said he wants to publish a list of partisan nominations to state positions before the next regular session of parliament. The Ordinary People faction leader said that partisan nominations are in fact corrupt behaviour, adding that though the current coalition has been trying to combat what he called the “brutal” corruption that existed under the rule of Fico, the parties are still involved in the kind of corruption represented by political nominations, while trying to present it as normal practice, SITA reported.
The co-ruling SDKÚ has said that Matovič is in fact just promoting a new party that he is about to establish.
“Mr Matovič is a liar,” said the deputy chairman of the KDH, Pavol Abrhan, pointing to Matovič’s claim made to journalists shortly after the parliamentary election that he had been offered millions of euros to destabilise the ruling coalition. When pressed for more information, he withdrew the claim, saying it was just a joke by a friend.
Malová said that statements by Matovič are quite serious because he is no longer just a man off the street.
“Though at the beginning he presented himself as a man from the street who was interested in politics and public affairs, he is now a member of parliament and thus his words carry weight and he has received wide publicity that he otherwise would not have had,” Malová said.
The other reason why his statements count is that as a deputy he has much better access to information than the majority of citizens, Malová added.
But she conceded: “Whether he is trustworthy is a question one has to ask,” adding that so far Matovič has provided no proof to support his statements.
Malová said that despite Matovič’s statement that political parties have been installing political nominees in state jobs, this has been happening for many years and it remains questionable whether it is really a form of corruption.
Malová said that he had to explain how parties were benefiting from their nominations. “He posed some very serious questions; questioned all the political parties, but so far he has given very little evidence.”
As for Matovič’s impact, Malová said that he has damaged the already low credibility of politicians as a whole.
“One of the messages from his statements is that all politicians in Slovakia are corrupt and he himself is an exception,” said Malová, who believes this is how Matovič wants to generate popularity. “How wide his popularity will be depends on how he is able to prove his credibility, which so far is quite weak since he is providing little evidence to support his claims.”
The political parties have been defending partisan nominations. SaS told Sme that the party, when selecting nominees, carries political responsibility for them.
“As long as other criteria are met, such as expertise, we do nominate party members,” SaS leader Richard Sulík said, as quoted by Sme.
Sme reported on July 20 that since last year’s parliamentary elections the ruling coalition has replaced the heads of 50 district offices and almost the same number of heads of district labour offices. None of the jobs were subject to a competitive selection process; instead, the cabinet appointed people who had been nominated by ministers, Sme reported.
25. Jul 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová