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EDITORIAL

Hostages to circumstance

IVAN Gašparovič is having the time of his presidential life. If the government had not fallen, the rest of his term in office would probably have been occupied with ribbon-cutting ceremonies, attending folk festivals and cheering at sporting stadiums – an outcome with which the many Slovaks who have long since given up any hope of detecting even a hint of statesmanship or political wisdom in his actions would have been more than happy.

IVAN Gašparovič is having the time of his presidential life. If the government had not fallen, the rest of his term in office would probably have been occupied with ribbon-cutting ceremonies, attending folk festivals and cheering at sporting stadiums – an outcome with which the many Slovaks who have long since given up any hope of detecting even a hint of statesmanship or political wisdom in his actions would have been more than happy.

But now the country is in a constitutional fix and actually needs a wise, impartial and effective president. Unfortunately, Gašparovič is unable to meet the challenge.

Some fairly serious deficiencies have now emerged in the country’s fundamental laws in terms of what procedure should be followed in the event that the government loses a no-confidence motion, as happened on October 11. Into the breach has stepped the president. The drawback is that this is a man who has consistently owed his political success to others; during his 2009 re-election, for example, he relied heavily on the support of the then-ruling Smer party.

The president can now enjoy a sudden rush of importance even more intense than the one he experiences when booting laws back to parliament by denying his signature – something he took to doing increasingly frequently after Iveta Radičová’s government took office. After lecturing Radičová about the nuances of dismissing governments, Gašparovič was toying with the idea of representing Slovakia at the crucial summit of eurozone leaders on October 23. The leaders will address – in English, French, German and Spanish, none of which he speaks – the existential challenges facing the elite economic club as well as the global economy.

The very thought of Gašparovič negotiating on behalf of Slovakia at such a high-level meeting sends a chill down the spines of his critics – and it is not a frisson of excitement.

Many voters now find themselves hostage to a political situation that they never desired. They will now have to endure another season of political campaigning with the populist parties presumably aiming their pitches at the basest instincts of the electorate, while the parties targeting the intellectual high ground repeat slogans that even they themselves no longer believe. Armies of SaS-sympathising bloggers and cyber-soldiers have loaded their guns to take down, by delivering verbal barrages assembled by their leaders and parroted ad nauseam into cyberspace, anyone with the temerity to suggest that SaS chose party politics over the fate of the Radičová government.

Radičová is still trying to recover from the blow she suffered when her government collapsed, and it cannot be helping her much to hear already the blare of campaign trumpets. She too is a hostage to the situation. It might be too late, with less than half a year before the elections, for her to establish a political party, meaning that she will also have to answer some tough questions about her position within the SDKÚ: will she again serve as the party’s election leader? Will she run under the SDKÚ flag at all?

Some observers promptly noted that they can envision Radičová in the presidential palace, where her work would not hinge on the defects of ruling coalition partners. Yet, an eventual presidential candidacy will not be an issue for Radičová for at least two years or so and since she obviously does not have the rhinoceros-like hide or the inflated ego of some of her colleagues she will face a tough time until March.

Unlike Radičová, the ambitions of Smer boss Robert Fico are flowering again. So much so that on October 20 he backed a solution to the political deadlock: Smer would be willing to support a revision to the constitution which would make it possible for Gašparovič to recall Radičová’s government but then re-appoint it to govern until the elections in March.

Anyone who attempts to seek signs of statesmanship or political generosity in Fico’s act will search in vain: it simply works much better for Fico to let the Radičová government wrap up its term and deal with the increasingly threatening economic climate while watching the coalition partners woo each other’s potential voters and engage in the political combat that shared-ruling during a stressful time will inevitably bring.

Fico wants to run his campaign from the convenient position of opposition and then, of course, to win – possibly with enough votes to allow him to rule alone, or with the help of a mute partner. But being taken hostage by Fico for the next four years is not an outcome that at least half the nation wants to see.


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