The Váhostav affair is the Gorilla of Smer

A COUPLE of days after the Váhostav affair broke out, it was labelled the Gorilla of Smer and of Fico’s government. Indeed, there are common elements in both scandals.

Scandals shake the political spectrum.Scandals shake the political spectrum. (Source: Sme)

What remains unknown for now is the impact of Váhostav on the pre- and post-election development in the country.

The case is not closed yet, and each of its aspects (content, criminal law, politics) might still bring some remarkable peripeties, given Smer’s shift to the tactics of situational improvisation – under the pressure of circumstances, new facts, and the steps of its political competitors.

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Váhostav is the third affair within the past year that has shaken Smer. Not every stronger party is able to cope with such quakes repeated within a short time. Even though the events from the years 2014-2015 haven’t been reflected in the voter support of Smer (which keeps oscillating around 35 percent) yet, they definitely influenced the fighting power of Smer and increased the level of its error rate.

First hit – the failed 

A tough defeat in the presidential election in March 2014 buried the intention of Robert Fico to build a regime of concentrated power in Slovakia that would for long years to come cement Smer and its leader in the position of dominant power with de facto no alternative.

The prime minister’s decision to run in the presidential election, however, was not solely his personal error (although a very tough one for a politician of his format), but rather the logical consequence of applying the leader-based model, one that the entire existence of Smer is based on, and that proved to be stronger than the party’s ability to avoid the wrong decisions of its leader.

It sounds incredible, but Robert Fico ignored the fact, notorious to everyone with at least superficial interest in Slovak politics, that there is less Smer voters than the voters of other parties [altogether], and that when the personified fight culminates, the votes of the opponents from the initial stage of the competition are almost sure to be joined (particularly in a situation when the opposition was ringing an alarm that Smer was preparing to usurp power).

The vision of concentrated power, encoded in the leader-based model of Smer, however, defeated any rational thinking, and there was nobody in Smer to warn their leader that he was in for a debacle. After independent candidate Andrej Kiska was elected, this vision, Smer’s main political tool, ceased to exist and it will hardly be revived.

The second hit – CT affair

The second quake for Smer came in November 2014, impersonated in the scandal concerning the purchase of an overpriced CT device in Piešťany. That was the time when critical reactions to dubious practices of people from within Smer and from its so-called sponsor environment, originally nurtured by the media and the opposition circles, spilled out into the streets. It was a new situation for Smer, and it took the parliament’s speaker, the party’s heavyweight, and a few subaltern characters (the health minister and the deputy parliament’s speaker), as victims.

Ever since then, the situation in health care has turned into such a significant political factor, that even the seemingly day-to-day problems of any state-run hospital can become the fuse of a political conflict with serious consequences.

And thirdly, the Váhostav case broke out, which again confirmed that Smer remains the party of systematic cronyism, majority syndrome (“tyranny of the majority”) and one man.

Third hit – Váhostav

These three characteristics are behind the prime minister’s decision to draw political responsibility for the scandalous circumstances of the Váhostav case, not towards those who have caused the injustice, but towards an opposition official who holds a completely different constitutional post after the 2012 elections.

Robert Fico probably gathered from his experiences with the CT case that he cannot allow any further weakening of Smer that would inevitably follow, if its members or sponsors were punished. Fico went for an alternative solution, but that proved to be an even greater trouble. Rather than solving the original problem, it is now threatening with unpleasant consequences for the party.

The explosive content 
of the case

That is to say, the Váhostav case has more explosive content than the Piešťany CT case, and this is where it gets really close to Gorilla: the ruling “social-democratic” party protects its secret cronies, compensates the small businesses who suffered damages caused by those cronies from public resources (that is from resources of all citizens), persistently refuses the opposition proposals and spectacularly punishes the opposition for the fact that its representative saved the state budget big money. Not even the cleverest political technologist could come up with a better narrative for the unifying centre-right opposition.

Fico has shown that he doesn’t care a cuss about all the agreements with political partners (opponents) when he feels that it might help him solve a sharp political conflict. He does dispose of an obedient parliamentary majority, and he’s always able to use it (despite the fact that many Smer MPs do not agree with the way he proceeds, they are helpless against the authority of the leader).

For every party flirting with the idea to enter a ruling coalition with Smer, the Váhostav case is a good illustration (and a warning) that the priority “coalition partners” for Smer will always be its cronies, and Smer always decides about how to treat its political partners based on their mutual relationship. These are the days when KDH is trying that on its own skin.

By Grigorij Mesežnikov

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