ON OCTOBER 11, 2011, Iveta Radičová made a last-minute appeal as the prime minister of Slovakia to Richard Sulík and his liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, which by that time was already pushing a hard-line campaign against the idea of Slovakia contributing to a financial life vest for Greece by supporting the European bailout mechanism. The fate of Radičová’s government hinged on the support of SaS, as the vote was also a vote of confidence in her government. Radičová pleaded in vain.
Shortly after his party refused to support the government, Sulík bragged that by refusing to back changes to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), his party saved European taxpayers €350 billion, which would otherwise have gone towards rescuing private banks. Well, the “savings” did not last very long; in fact, only until Robert Fico, the leader of Smer, stepped in and supported the changes in return for early elections, which he went on to win in a landslide victory. What did right-wing voters get out of this deal? Frustration, apathy and disappointment.
If SaS’ image makers were hoping that liberal voters would give the party credit for what Sulík has been trying to interpret since the fall of the government as a principled approach to an important issue, they were actually wrong. It not only failed to bring the party any impressive election results, but it seems that the fall of the government indeed planted the seeds of conflict and the decline of the liberal party.
Two years later, a prominent member of the liberal party, Juraj Miškov, who, due to the presence of SaS in the government of Radičová, held the economy minister chair, apologised to voters for what he called his party’s co-responsibility for the fall of the government. The apology came only a couple of days before Miškov actually quit the party along with Jozef Kollár, Sulík’s failed challenger for the chairman’s post, joined by 75 other members who cited the SaS leader’s political style, among other reasons, for their decision to quit.
Kollár’s group, whose main problem is that he has not left a distinct enough impression in the memory of right-wing voters to make his identification easier, has since announced the rise of the Liberal Agreement association, which is yet another emerging formation on the already crowded right-wing field.
Over the past two years most of the centre-right parties became too narrow for certain politicians, who suddenly felt the urge to differentiate themselves from the hard party lines. Some of them started initiatives, like Miroslav Beblavý and Lucia Žitňanská’s “We Are Creating Slovakia”, which certainly did not please their Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) boss, Pavol Frešo, who likes to remind right-wing voters that his party did experience a change in leadership.
Daniel Lipšic has established his own NOVA party, and Radoslav Procházka, who made it to parliament on the KDH slate only to establish the Alfa platform and then leave the party in February this year, might be aiming for the presidency.
In one way or another, the leaders of these new formations have been discussing the vague idea of the “new right” offering a more genuine approach to politics, something they hope might reduce the apathy of right-wing voters, who are traditionally more critical of their leaders than, for example, supporters of Robert Fico’s Smer. The problem the new leaders may face is that yet another political formation with yet another self-declared leader of the right wing is among the last things right-wing voters might want. Besides, they should also ask whether a strong right-wing leader with inflated ambitions is really what potential voters want.
While some of the departing SaS members suggest that there might be a merger or unification at the end of the tunnel, it is unclear when and with whom the liberals aspire to unite. However, being liberal or conservative, or a transition from one to the other, no longer seems to stand in the way of people getting together to create formations on the political stage.
Regardless of where the SaS renegades end up going, the story of the liberal party is a sad one: it is a story of wasted potential, wasted trust and chance, not only of that given to Sulík and his party, but also the government of Radičová. And if there was an easy fix for the loss of trust among voters, the SaS marketing department would have figured it out long ago. But there is no easy fix, either for SaS or the other right-wing parties, and it will take much more than just an apology.
22. Apr 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová