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EDITORIAL

Russian roulette

IVAN Gašparovič’s performance as Slovakia’s president makes the topic of the upcoming presidential elections a timely one, even with almost a year to go before the country elects its new head of state. Gašparovič, the one-time right-hand man of Vladimír Mečiar, the controversial three-time prime minister who in the mid 1990s pushed Slovakia to the brink of international isolation, has substantially lowered the expectations of at least half of the nation for the president.

IVAN Gašparovič’s performance as Slovakia’s president makes the topic of the upcoming presidential elections a timely one, even with almost a year to go before the country elects its new head of state. Gašparovič, the one-time right-hand man of Vladimír Mečiar, the controversial three-time prime minister who in the mid 1990s pushed Slovakia to the brink of international isolation, has substantially lowered the expectations of at least half of the nation for the president.

Gašparovič’s critics, who had hoped that some shred of dignity within the institution of the presidency would be maintained until 2014, have probably reconsidered this hope after his role in Slovakia’s general prosecutor melodrama became clear, which evolved around the president’s refusal to appoint Jozef Čentéš to the post after he was lawfully elected by parliament.

But who will replace Gašparovič, the candidate who, back in 2004, was elected as the lesser evil, and who owed his presidential victory entirely to Mečiar, the politician who, after being kicked out of power, had aspirations to move into the presidential palace himself, only to be thwarted by voters who wanted to see him disappear for good? Who will replace the man who then owed his re-election to the support of Robert Fico’s Smer, to whom he has been repaying the favour ever since?

The ongoing discourse around the presidential election has not yet offered any clear answers to this question, and it has not brought any reassurance that the situation might not become even more complicated, given that Robert Fico has reportedly been toying with the idea of trading his prime ministerial office for that of the presidency.

Slovakia can expect the same circus that accompanies all presidential elections: there will be a number of candidates without the slightest chance of getting elected who will still give it a shot if for nothing else than the thrill of being talked about. Some candidates will emerge and then fade after the public test of their appeal fails. Then there will be groups of politicians who, only for the sake of nominating their own candidate, will toss some of the most unlikely names into the ring. There are also politicians who stubbornly continue to talk about the one candidate who might actually have a chance of beating even Fico in the presidential duel, but who has repeatedly made it clear that she will never step back into the polluted waters of politics: Iveta Radičová.

Fico has undoubtedly been chewing carefully on the prospect of the presidency, and if the public allows him to swallow it, it will be a very different presidency from the one Gašparovič currently inhabits. Observers have already speculated that, for example, the way the Constitutional Court responded to Gašparovič’s reluctance to appoint a candidate legitimately elected by parliament to the general prosecutor post, effectively strengthens the muscles of the president, which would make the position more appealing to Fico.

With Fico in mind, some might worry that the seeds of the Russian model, whereby the president becomes prime minister and then after some time metamorphoses back to president, are being sewn here. Yet, Fico has so far remained tight-lipped: I will neither confirm nor deny.

Nevertheless, earlier in June, during the open day at the Slovak Government Office, Fico said that a large number of Smer voters would not want him to be president anyway, according to the SITA newswire.

“Those people are telling me: do not even consider it Mr Prime Minister, because we will not elect you for president,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA, when making his contribution to the election discourse.

Fico will base his decision on a very careful estimate of the situation, the challenges his government will face and the intensity of the affection of his supporters. He would never enter into a situation that was less than completely certain as far as the presidency is concerned.

Nevertheless, a recent poll by the MVK polling agency has somewhat negated Fico’s claim, suggesting that among actual Smer voters, as many as 60 percent would vote for Fico to become president, while 36 percent would want him to remain prime minister.

All this could change but so far the public has not generated much enthusiasm for any of the names emerging in the election discourse: one-time prime minister and former head of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Ján Čarnogurský, KDH renegade and father of the Alfa platform Radoslav Procházka, businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska or even Pavol Hrušovský, another former KDH boss. One of the leading personalities of the Velvet Revolution, Milan Kňažko, for example, has said that if there is enough backing he would give it a shot.

The worst-case scenario of course is that through the next president Smer will further strengthen its influence in the presidential palace and that Slovakia’s president will become a puppet whose strings are pulled from the headquarters of the ruling party. What about the best-case scenario? It is in the hands of the public, but the sceptics would readily add that we do not know whether that is good or bad news for Slovakia.

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