THERE are relatively non-disruptive political soap operas that progress according to well-worn scripts and have a specific target audience. The good guys can be easily distinguished from the bad guys and even if there is a cliffhanger ending, it is resolved in such a way that the target voters reconfirm their support for the party which directed the drama. There are times when several soap operas are broadcast simultaneously on the political screen and where the overall outcome can be much less predictable.
Then there is the dangerous soap opera, where even the script writers do not know how it will end – but still know very well what emotive responses they want to generate among the audience. Whenever they detect an uptick in the approval rating, they twist the plot some more, even if this leads to a deadlock in which the storyline risks turning into an endless series of cliffhangers.
Some observers have advanced the idea that the leaders of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) are treating the bailout issue as a campaign tactic that might permit their still-new party to attract voters who have hitherto backed other parties, and who would be completely inaccessible via other issues.
The debate, as offered to the public, has long since departed from the merits of its economic arguments. Elaborate arguments rarely work well in political beauty pageants.
Slovaks who now believe that all SaS is doing is guarding their purses so that not a single cent rolls into the insatiable stomachs of foreign ne’er-do-wells do not care much about the actual ending for Slovakia. But the authors and actors of the bailout saga should know.
There is one person who has been conspicuous by his absence from the losing side of this game: Smer boss Robert Fico, who has been trying to use the deadlock for his benefit from the very beginning.
He refused to line up his Smer deputies in support of the proposed changes to the European Financial Stability Fund, even though the European colleagues with whom he claims to have an ideological connection have been right behind the scheme. To be exact, Fico made his support for the scheme conditional on the unity of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová (which would thereby make his own support irrelevant) or the approval of a law permitting early elections.
Fico has been confident that this attitude would not harm the 40-plus-percent approval rating that he has enjoyed since last year. So confident, in fact, that he had no qualms about making a detour from the bailout discourse to show up at a congress of Russia’s ruling party in Moscow on September 24, along with politicians from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and China – an indication, perhaps, of Fico’s view of Slovakia’s place in the world.
In fact, SaS parliamentary caucus leader Jozef Kollár said on September 25 that if the three ruling coalition parties – meaning the SDKÚ, KDH and Most-Híd – and Smer consider the bailout schemes such a crucial issue they should approve them together, suggesting that “nobody will consider it a violation of the ruling coalition agreement”. Yet the statement comes at a time when any mention of uniting with Smer hits a raw nerve in the ruling coalition.
On September 22 Richard Sulík wrote on his blog that even without the votes of the SNS, SaS, and the OKS and Ordinary People factions, parliament could still secure 115 votes in favour of the bailout mechanism, “a comfortable constitutional majority”, and that a responsible politician like Ivan Mikloš, the finance minister, should start doing his best to secure it. But Mikloš is not doing that, Sulík wrote, and instead he has proposed linking the bailout vote to a confidence vote, in which case the EFSF and ESM “are sure not to be passed”.
“That is why I am asking Ivan Mikloš whether he is not after something other than the bailout schemes,” Sulík wrote.
Mikloš and his SDKÚ party last year took responsibility for managing the country along with Sulík and his party, and not with Smer, which gave voters a pretty good indication of their principles and their preferences for political partners. So it now seems rather strange for SaS to suggest that its ruling partners should rely on Fico and company.
Meanwhile, this particular soap opera has attracted a considerable international audience. Let’s hope, for the sake of Slovakia’s reputation, that all those involved in the production have at least a vague idea of how it ends – with the good of the country and its international standing, rather than the popularity of a single party, in mind.
3. Oct 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová