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EDITORIAL

That elusive decency factor

DECENCY, a rather scarce item on offer in Slovakia’s politics, is not something that is acquired by training and even if some politicians have it, decency easily gets flushed away by the political streams that elected leaders are required to swim in. Slovakia’s first woman prime minister, Iveta Radičová, offered decency when she entered politics and she displayed it in her 16 months in office.

DECENCY, a rather scarce item on offer in Slovakia’s politics, is not something that is acquired by training and even if some politicians have it, decency easily gets flushed away by the political streams that elected leaders are required to swim in. Slovakia’s first woman prime minister, Iveta Radičová, offered decency when she entered politics and she displayed it in her 16 months in office.

After her cabinet collapsed over Slovakia’s failure to approve changes to the eurozone bailout scheme, Radičová announced that she would not seek the top office in 2012 or even a seat in parliament for that very reason – decency. She withdrew in an act hardly imaginable from the many one-man-show politicians populating Slovakia who want to be glued to their party seats for life.

Yet the decency of a prime minister in Slovakia’s acute political climate, without even the tangible and sustainable support from a political party and reliable backing from her own ministers, is a fragile human trait that is vulnerable to damage with each and every use.

Radičová still enjoys relatively strong popularity among voters and those who enter politics rarely throw away their accumulated political capital. She, of course, needs to consider wisely how and when to use her political capital and be aware that it will dissipate if it remains unused for too long.

Radičová is unlikely to be finished with politics for good and many already envision her bidding for Slovakia’s presidency when two-term president Ivan Gašparovič, who owes his 2009 re-election to Robert Fico’s Smer party, departs the presidential palace. Undoubtedly, she will need much more convincing support from her own party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), than that which she received during her prime ministerial tenure. Their sometimes lukewarm backing fuelled speculation that some of her party colleagues really wanted someone else sitting behind the wheel of government.

Radičová had already recovered from an embarrassing position when, in a momentary lapse, she voted on behalf of another MP and then chose to resign from parliament in April 2009. Her contrition turned out to be the right step as she later made it to the top of the SDKÚ candidate list in 2010, being at one point the only politician whose popularity surpassed that of Fico.

One might question whether by using the “threat of quitting” twice she had gotten dangerously close to the line where this tactic could be defined as her modus operandi to achieve compromise – along with all the risks such a tactic presents to the stability of a government. Of course, guarding the stability of the government and one’s own decency might not always be compatible but many had hoped that given the declared goals of the ruling partners it was a more feasible undertaking than it would have been in ruling with Fico or either of his former mates, the now vanishing Movement for a Democratic Slovakia or Ján Slota and his nationalist camp.

Fico lashed out at Radičová in even harsher tones than is his usual manner after she announced her departure. Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov pointed out that Radičová’s departure has deprived Fico of a singular archenemy who can be blamed for any and all frustrations he can possibly pump up among his supporters. In 2010 when Mikuláš Dzurinda gave up his top position on the SDKÚ candidate list, Fico lost his target as well. So now he attacks Radičová for what he calls “withdrawing from the battlefield”.

Radičová’s departure did something else as well: it opened the door for Dzurinda to climb back to the top of the SDKÚ candidate list. Shortly after Radičová’s announcement, Dzurinda appeared before the media several times, restating that he has paid a high price for problems that emerged within his party a decade ago but that he is now ready and feeling strong. First of all, voters will have to feel that they are ready for a third round with Dzurinda and if they are again pushed into the “must-vote-for-the-lesser-evil” corner by having Fico as one option and centre-right parties, even with leaders they are not fully happy with, as the other option, many voters might again choose the latter. But maybe they will not.

Many unanswered questions are flying around next year’s parliamentary elections and what impact they might have on the country for the following four years. But one thing is certain: Slovakia will not have a woman prime minister and the prospect of getting a leader with a sense of decency is far from certain and may even be quite unlikely.


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