ELECTION clichés, campaign promises endlessly repeated and catchy slogans on billboards are part of the game. The more disillusioned that society has become with its political elite, the more resistant people are to the campaign talk. If even a fraction of the promises that the parties are serving up to the electorate are fulfilled, Slovakia in four years will be a land of transparency and honesty where embarrassed public servants return bonuses they received in times of economic uncertainty and business reporters are able to erase the phrase ‘long-term unemployed’ from their lexicon and write only about green jobs and the country’s abundant surplus of skilled labour. Fat chance.
The parties know that most of their supporters will not dust off the election programme offered a year and half ago and go through point by point to check which promises were kept and which promises sank into oblivion. Indeed, this approach is quite distant from the average Slovak voter’s approach.
It seems that very few people in Slovakia switch from their traditionally-preferred political party on the basis of an election programme or even one or two catchy slogans. Besides, the swirling roar over Gorilla, the file allegedly assembled by the country’s spy agency in 2005-6 and supposedly containing transcripts of secret conversations between senior politicians and businesspeople , is overshadowing all the drums of the election campaign that beat out a rhythm of more positive slogans, promises to end unemployment or clean up the judiciary.
If a couple of weeks ago politicians were merely wondering whether the Gorilla revelations might leave scars deep enough to repel voters from certain parties, the most recent poll has served up some hints that file actually will. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the party of Mikuláš Dzurinda, who led the government that was in power when the file was reportedly made, received the support of less than 10 percent of those polled and was overtaken – if only by a fraction of one percent – by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).
There are some feeble efforts among the centre-right parties suggesting that the March vote should still be about preventing Robert Fico from taking the wheel of the country again and driving it down the path of excessive waste or even worse. But that mantra might not work this time around, even if voting for one of the parties that allowed the Radičová government to collapse or for a party that has not managed to undergo any serious self-reflection and cleansing is still seen as a vote for the lesser evil.
Citizens who voted for the centre-right parties in the past might stay at home, perhaps for the very first time ever, if they cannot overcome their disillusionment. Many are just plain confused. On one hand they are being told they should vote for a party able to manage the country in difficult times, when stability might hinge on a single letter in a sovereign credit rating, but on the other hand they do not want to feel they are helping politicians with malodorous political baggage to linger any longer in the political arena. And where are the heralded new politicians in whom integrity and vision are paired in such a way that they are resistant to the corrupting influence of power?
The decision may be much easier for a typical supporter of Robert Fico, a person who is unlikely to question whether nominees of the Fico government had any share in the failure to properly investigate the Gorilla allegations and bring the jungle of lost files, secret recordings and a parallel intelligence world into the public gaze.
When The Slovak Spectator went to print on January 19, Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic had confirmed that there actually was a legal and legitimate undercover operation codenamed Gorilla conducted by the SIS, the country’s intelligence service. His confirmation that Gorilla did exist will indeed make the roaring of its allegations even louder.
Of course many voters who have memories of past scandals emerging and then disappearing might ask: once the election drums fall silent and some parties score better than others, will the Gorilla not lose its teeth and then also sink into oblivion?
One can only hope that the optimists, who believe that with enough public pressure the Gorilla episode might lead to a cleansing process in Slovakia’s political arena, will be proved right.