WHILE politicians go to considerable lengths to be remembered fondly by the voters at election time, after the elections pass they actually hope that the memory of the masses is rather short and that their campaign promises will no longer be remembered. Unfulfilled campaign promises, ranging from miraculous remedies for unemployment through raised living standards to justice for all, are the oldest stories in the book of politics and politicians take comfort in the suspicion that present-day voters may not even expect such promises to be kept.
However, after the scandal surrounding the Gorilla file, an unverified document purporting to describe an operation conducted by the SIS intelligence agency to collect information about the influence of financial groups on senior Slovak politicians between 2005 and 2006, erupted and thousands of people gathered in town squares calling for a clean-up of the political arena in Slovakia, they did get politicians’ attention. The Gorilla file raised suspicions of high-level corruption that significantly affected people’s confidence in the way their political system functions.
In response to these developments, the political arena suddenly produced many self-declared fighters against so-called Gorillas and advocates of transparency in politics promising anything that they felt had the potential to thaw the icy mistrust encasing the hearts of Slovak voters. There is no doubt about which political party was the most successful at making the cynicism and loss of trust in politics in a considerable part of the Slovak electorate work to its advantage: Robert Fico’s Smer won a landslide victory and an unprecedented parliamentary majority.
Cleverly, however, a political transparency watchdog, an NGO and an economics think tank used the election campaign as well as voters’ despair over the mess and corruption affecting Slovak politics to jointly invite the political parties to sign an obligation to change the rules governing party financing in Slovakia.
All the main parties plus two others which ultimately failed to win seats in parliament, signed the pledge presented by Transparency International Slovensko (TIS), the Slovak Governance Institute (SGI) and the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (INEKO), and promised that within a year of entering parliament they would adopt changes and make control over party funding stricter and more independent, while opening up their accounts to inspectors and the public.
One year on, nothing has been done. The sad thing is that this surprises no one and will send precisely zero people onto the streets. As many voters will say, this is Slovakia and here the fulfilment of election promises is as rare as a politician falling on his (or her) sword after evidence of wrongdoing is exposed in the media and confirmed by official monitors.
While it is no surprise that the Slovak National Party (SNS) which is now seeking ways to get rid of its honorary chairman, Ján Slota, who was never a big fan of telling the public about the sources of his abundant cash, and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), remembered for a multi-million-crown donation supposedly brought in by a pensioner in a plastic bag, refused to sign the pledge, the failure of those who did sign it will deepen the public’s apathy and, the watchdogs warn, will ultimately harm the quality of democracy in Slovakia.
The most ludicrous attempt to justify the lack of action, at least on the part of the opposition parties, came from Most-Híd MP Gábor Gál, who claimed that he had written a draft law on behalf of the People’s Platform (grouping the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Most-Híd) which would have made the rules for party financing stricter – but “a banal thing happened” and his computer crashed.
Politicians across the political spectrum still say they will do it: they will make it more difficult for themselves to conceal donors; they will mend the holes through which public funds are able to trickle into their own pockets, and will give inspectors access to the accounts.
The public can always hope that no more computers crash, that numerous amendments of the amendment will not extract teeth from the law and that none of the parties come up with some absurd condition for voting for the draft – something which seems to be becoming a habit in the Slovak Parliament.
Will Slovakia actually get an effective law on political conflicts of interest, which will be thoroughly applied and result in violators being punished? Voters will only believe it when they see it.