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The campaign game

IN THE real world it is common to present evidence supporting a point of view at the same time the point of view itself is presented. 

Andrej Kiska (l) and PM Robert Fico during a discussion prior to presidential elections. (Source: Sme)

For example: “I already paid my bill, here is the receipt” or “Miss, the radar clocked you at 170 kilometres per hour”.

But this is not the case in political campaigns, where allegations are made well before the evidence is presented, if it is ever presented at all. The practice is not unique to Slovakia, but recent years have seen a certain expertise develop. The latest example of the practice comes as Igor Matovič claims that Prime Minister Robert Fico has a secret Belizean bank account that contains USD 675 million. Matovič presented no evidence and has not disclosed his source. Fico is suing; Matovič says he will produce evidence next month.

Read also: Read also:Campaign heats up with Fico allegations

Matovič’s goal, and the general idea, is to create doubt about a political competitor’s reputation and hope that the public is not paying much attention. Ideally, voters hear some shocking allegation but don’t hear about it later when it has been disproven. Alternatively, a series of allegations, true or not, can accumulate into a vague public feeling that the candidate is flawed – even if all the allegations prove false, the fact that there have been a lot of them is meant to be a bad thing.

Fico may have a reason to be angry about the latest case, but he has been more than willing to engage in the practice himself. His preferred method is the baseless and absurd open ended question, one that is impossible to answer. The failure of the opponent to answer is used as proof of guilt, and anyone who tries to answer indirectly gives legitimacy to the ridiculous question itself.

During a televised debate with Andrej Kiska, who defeated Fico in the March 2014 presidential election, the prime minister sought to paint Kiska as a member of the Church of Scientology. “One of your firms is called Triangel, right?” Fico asked Kiska during the debate. “The sign of the Church of Scientology is a triangle. Mr Kiska you are interconnected with this sect and you have not negated any of the evidence I presented.”

There was no evidence presented – other than the repeated mention of a certain polygon – making the allegation difficult to negate. There is no way that Fico really believed Kiska was a Scientologist – and he wasn’t – but that didn’t stop the baseless allegations.

Just weeks ago, Fico pulled off a similar move as he sought to tarnish political rivals from the Siet’ party — perhaps Fico’s strongest challenger in an admittedly weak field. Andrej Hrnčiar, mayor of Martin, asked for the national government’s help in preventing the city from being forced to sell off its water treatment facility to cover the payout from a decades old lawsuit. The case relates to a botched and likely corrupt deal surrounding a ski resort made long ago and the court proceedings date back 16 years. When the court case was launched, Hrnčiar was working as an actor in the Slovak Chamber Theatre and had absolutely no role in politics, but that didn’t stop Fico.

Today, the city of Martin is on the hook for €8.4 million, and after the debt was bought up and traded by a series of figures, it is now held by a lawyer who Radoslav Procházka, the chairman of the Siet’ party once knew. Fico’s insinuation is that Hrnčiar, acting on behalf of Procházka, who is acting on behalf of the lawyer, is seeking to use the national government to help a shifty businessman get rich. In Slovakia, such a scheme does seem plausible, but Hrnčiar was in fact asking for help in not paying the debt. In other words, the city wants the national government’s help in blocking this lawyer from getting what he wants, the exact opposite of what Fico is alluding to.

“I’m asking publicly Mr. Hrnčiar,” Fico said, because asking privately has no campaign value. “What are you doing, Mr. Hrnčiar and Mr. Procházka? What kind of game are you playing with the public?”

Hrnčiar’s game is one whereby the citizens of Martin avoid being punished in the form of having their water supply privatised for a mistake made decades ago by a different mayor. Fico was playing the campaign game, not only declining to help Martin in a cause that he should be in favour of, but also intentionally distorting what the case is all about.

With seven more months to go before the general election there will be plenty more where that came from.

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