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EDITORIAL

Populism par excellence

JÁN Slota, chairman of the opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), on September 14 supported a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, arguing that she does not have what he called “the moral or ethical qualities” needed to perform the job. This statement was made by a man whose party became a production line for shady tenders after it was elevated to power by Smer boss Robert Fico in 2006. These included the notorious bulletin-board tender, with its single-bidder contract that allowed millions of euros to be paid without proper documentation, and the sale of the country’s excess carbon dioxide emission quotas to the amorphous (and now apparently untraceable) Interblue Group, to name but a few.

JÁN Slota, chairman of the opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), on September 14 supported a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, arguing that she does not have what he called “the moral or ethical qualities” needed to perform the job. This statement was made by a man whose party became a production line for shady tenders after it was elevated to power by Smer boss Robert Fico in 2006. These included the notorious bulletin-board tender, with its single-bidder contract that allowed millions of euros to be paid without proper documentation, and the sale of the country’s excess carbon dioxide emission quotas to the amorphous (and now apparently untraceable) Interblue Group, to name but a few.

The failed no-confidence motion itself was preceded by an all-night marathon talkfest, which unleashed a desire to speak among even deputies who are normally invisible in the Slovak Parliament. After this performance one is forced to conclude that they are right to remain in the shadows.

Deputies have previously turned confidence debates into a theatre of the absurd: journalists would be hard-pressed to name a single minister who in recent years has been forced out as a result of one. The no-confidence debates often resemble a giant counselling session where those who have been stripped of power air their frustrations. One gets the impression that some notorious talkers have it in their MP’s job description to make these sessions as long and mentally painful for their opponents as possible. This time the discourse lasted all night and thus most locals were sheltered from the unleashed idiocy of some speakers unless they were journalists, true believers of the SNS or Smer or the masochist type of voter who seeks out opportunities to be repelled by politicians.

Radičová eventually survived the confidence vote, which came at a bad time for the ruling coalition. It is currently on edge because of the unbending refusal of one of its members, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), to support changes to the eurozone bailout schemes. This is probably why Fico, who initiated the debate, had hoped that some deputies from the ruling coalition might lose their nerve and join the opposition ranks in its effort to have the prime minister sacked and thus find a crack through which he could sneak back to power. Yet Fico underestimated how much the ruling coalition is bound together by a lust for power, albeit perhaps not as burning and insatiable as his own.

If the ruling coalition can learn anything from developments over the past couple months it is that it is simply not enough to be more transparent than the previous government. Instead, the ruling parties must give voters a much stronger reason to support them than just a fear of a return to power by Fico and his buddies.

And Fico does want to return, even if the price is to run a country which can hardly breathe, squeezed as it is by the tightened belt of public finances and afflicted by the viruses of downturn that are floating freely in the air. He says his party will support the proposed changes to the eurozone bailout funds – a subject which is currently a source of conflict within the ruling coalition – but only if his political opponents agree to early elections.

In fact, Smer’s boss has not even tried to conceal how badly he wants to get back in to power. He knows that his voters will conduct no in-depth analysis of his statements or explore why he is on one hand saying that he has nothing against the changes to the eurozone bailout plan but on the other simply refuses to support it unless the ruling coalition backs it unanimously – even though this would negate the need for his support. This approach effectively means that while any chance remains to make the leaks in the coalition boat bigger Fico will not miss it, even at the price of the failure of the eurozone plan – one that he and his supposed ideological allies in Europe all say they support.

Doubtless, it would have not been a good development for the country if Radičová had been sacked by Smer and the SNS, even if – to take one example – she cannot be proud of the way she has handled the dubious rental contract for Košice’s tax office, signed with the firm of an official from her own party.

Slovakia’s politics have long been driven by voters’ reluctant choice of a lesser evil, in order to prevent the return of politicians like Vladimír Mečiar, and now Robert Fico or even Ján Slota. The current ruling coalition is not doing as much as it could to change this dynamic.


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