IGOR Matovič, the independent MP who in 2010 made it into parliament along with three allies on Freedom and Solidarity’s (SaS) party list despite them occupying the last four places on it, has carved out a reputation as something of maverick. His fame – or infamy, depending on your point of view – now looks set to grow after the party he founded, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities, managed to lose 30 of the most high-profile candidates on its election slate less than five weeks before the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 10.
Inflamed by a slogan at one of the current anti-corruption rallies taking place across Slovakia, Matovič demanded that some of those he himself had selected for the election slate of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities answer corruption-related questions while connected to a polygraph, or lie detector. But about two dozen of the candidates voiced their opposition, with one of them, former interior minister and current head of the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS) faction Vladimír Palko, calling it an “idiotic idea”.
Despite the criticism Matovič insisted on the lie detector tests, in which Palko and Civic Conservative Party (OKS) faction head Peter Zajac were to be asked whether they had ever taken a bribe.
“Igor Matovič is killing his own child and the child of all of us,” Zajac told a press conference, adding that the lie detector is not his personal problem but rather a political one.
“What he calls the lie detector most resembles the screenings of the communist regime which were followed by purges.”
Even the man who occupied the number one position on the party’s slate, physicist and Týždeň weekly reporter Martin Mojžiš, quit, saying Matovič’s demand was an insult to people he respects.
Mojžiš said that signs of a personality cult had started to emerge within the party and that its campaign had turned into a campaign by a single person, Matovič, who was coming up with “performances attractive for the media” and who wanted other candidates to participate.
Matovič announced on February 7, after 24 candidates had quit, that his slate was not falling apart, but only “getting cleaned up”. Another six candidates then left the slate on February 8. Matovič insisted that he did not want all the candidates to undergo testing, only the two other party leaders in addition to himself.
Ján Baránek, a sociologist and head of the Polis polling agency, said he did not think that demanding polygraph testing of people who have played significant roles during the past 20 years was a good idea.
“Being ordered to undergo lie detector testing must be humiliating for [prominent KDS member] František Mikloško, who was a Catholic dissident [under communism] and who contributed to the creation of this state and the Velvet Revolution,” Baránek told The Slovak Spectator.
Nevertheless, political scientist Miroslav Kusý suggested that the people who joined Matovič should have known what they were getting into.
“The whole community of political scientists was taken aback that precisely the people who placed such store by what they called their principled attitude and transparent approach joined Matovič’s slate,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “By taking this move they somewhat debased the status they took such pride in.”
Kusý says that it was not a sustainable situation and that if it were not the polygraph testing, then something else would have arisen to bring the “independent personalities” into conflict with Matovič.
“Matovič as a leader was entitled to his demands and when these people agreed to join the slate they actually knew that it was the name of the game,” Kusý said.
For this year’s election Matovič, who was thrown out of SaS within months of being elected on its slate in 2010, established his own party and offered positions on its slate to individuals he called “ordinary people” and “independent personalities” including members of the OKS, which got four MPs elected via the Most-Híd slate in 2010, and KDS, a party which was established by Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) renegades in 2008 but which did not contest the 2010 election. Former investigative journalist Eugen Korda, who most recently worked for the Sme daily’s online TV channel, plus Mojžiš, and the former head of the drama section of the Slovak National Theatre, Štefan Bučko, also joined Matovič’s party. Now many are leaving it.
Yet Baránek said he did not think that these developments would have a fundamental impact on support for the party because Matovič had already given the departure of the first 24 candidates a rather populist spin.
“I understand their reasons [for departing], but the ordinary voter does not see these motivations and will only say that these people refused to be tested on a lie detector about corruption so they must be involved in something,” Baránek said. “Thus I think this will not really harm the party”.
Baránek explained that there are people on the candidate list of Matovič’s party who are able to generate support, and that they and those who came into conflict with Matovič are strong personalities.
“Is Matovič an arbiter in Slovakia?” Baránek asked, adding that lie detector tests are normally used only in police investigations where serious allegations are involved, or to test applicants wanting to join the intelligence services.
As for the impact that the developments within the Ordinary People party might have on the centre-right, Baránek said that the right in Slovak politics is already so disjointed that these events should have no fundamental impact on the state of this part of the political spectrum. He said he does not expect any considerable migration of voters because of what had happened.
Kusý said he did not think that the departures would influence the party’s approval rate either, since he assumes that Matovič has by now acquired a core group of supporters.
Moreover, Kusý disagreed with Palko’s statement that the demand to undergo a lie detector test was “absurd and idiotic”. He said it in fact rather matched Matovič’s declared demands and his way of doing politics.
“Unusual? Yes it was, but Matovič has come up with unusual things in politics before,” Kusý said, adding that this move could be sold very well to voters who might think: “Let’s have them undergo the testing if they say they are pure.”
Matovič started his parliamentary career by telling the internet news website Aktualne.sk in summer 2010 that he was offered “a huge amount of money” to destabilise the emerging new coalition and trigger early parliamentary elections. A couple of days later he withdrew the claim saying that a friend who spoke to him about the offer later apologised and told him it was “only a joke”.
Later he accused all Slovakia’s main political parties of being corrupt.
“I am accusing of corruption all the political parties which gained more than 3 percent in the elections,” Matovič said in summer 2011, adding that they were abusing their power to make appointments in the state sector in order to reward their cronies, sponsors and people who had distributed flyers for them, adding that professional qualifications were not considered important.
Another incident for which Matovič gained instant notoriety was the “educational slap in the face” he received from former Slovak National Party (SNS) deputy chairwoman Anna Belousovová after he referred to her, in one of his newspaper articles, by the disrespectful diminutive ‘Anča’.
13. Feb 2012 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová