Insight Slovakia

Ambitious, vague, unrealistic: Slovak government manifesto draws mixed reactions

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic and President Zuzana Caputova in the presidential palace in Bratislava

Bratislava, Slovakia – It’s 121 pages long. slovak manifesto

The new Slovak cabinet, led by Prime Minister Igor Matovic and his Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO) movement, pushed its program statement and political manifesto through parliament on the last day of April, thus officially winning the legislative body’s approval to take up the mantle of government.

The drawn-out manifesto, nearly twice as long as the document put forward by the previous administration, “is the most ambitious [programme statement so far] in its attempt to move Slovakia to become better,” PM Matovic wrote on Facebook. “There is a crisis, but it is polite to fulfill promises,” he said in a follow-up statement.

Slovak government’s manifesto: a long list of promises

The programme statement lays out the government’s priorities for the upcoming four years. It details the goals and aspirations of all ministries and branches of government. Major promises include battling corruption and securing transparency, the responsible management of public finances and the rule of law, increasing public trust in government, guaranteeing the quality of healthcare, education and the business environment, and setting up a fair subsidy system for farmers while expanding Slovakia’s food self-sufficiency.

Under this “heap of phrases and unspecific obligations”, as former politician and economist Miroslav Beblavy commented in a blog post, the manifesto contains a selection of concrete measures with a direct impact on the everyday lives of Slovak citizens. A sample of these covers issues such as:

  • allowing citizens living abroad in the long-term to acquire dual citizenship without losing their Slovak citizenship;
  • instituting the material responsibility of politicians;
  • online voting;
  • family discounts for various events;
  • mandatory lie detectors for top police officials;
  • slashing pensions for communist-era spies;
  • the introduction of a government-run newspaper to be distributed to all households.

The government also pledged to lay the groundwork for a transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050 while ruling out any attempt to introduce euthanasia or assisted suicide in Slovakia. In a wink at the notion of people’s direct participation in politics, the Prime Minister pointed out that all eleven programme points okayed by his voters in a pre-election online survey made it to the manifesto.

Igor Matovic and his anti-corruption OLaNO party rose to a shock victory over two months ago and has since formed a four-party government coalition.

The Switzerland of Central Europe

The program statement represents two separate worldviews, according to political scientist Viera Zuborova. The first is the realm of marketing tools working to increase the feeling that Matovic’s cabinet is approaching citizens in earnest. The government is presenting an image of “whipping corrupt public officials,” Zuborova told the HN daily.

But it is also a very ambitious, even visionary document, Zuborova said, that creates a blueprint for Slovakia’s development in the next decades. The “mythical” ambition is to become the Switzerland of Central Europe, the expert added.

Matovic needed 76 votes out of a total of 150 in the Slovak parliament known as the National Council to get his manifesto approved. In the end, he mustered 93 yeses, even gaining one vote from the opposition. Two government MPs abstained.

Without gaining the lawmakers’ definitive thumbs-up, the four-party coalition of OLaNO, We are Family (Sme Rodina), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and For the People (Za ludi) would not have been able to exercise decision-making power amidst a pandemic warranting resolute leadership.

Following the late-February general election and the ensuing coalition talks, Slovakia’s president Zuzana Caputova sworn in Matovic’s administration on 21 March, at the height of the new coronavirus’ rampage. “By day we were dealing with the coronavirus situation, by night we discussed the government programme statement,” Deputy PM Veronika Remisova (Za ludi) said.

International fame

Matovic’s crisis management harnessed praise internationally for the way his administration responded to the coronavirus outbreak. To date, Slovakia has recorded the lowest number of deaths per capita in Europe. As of May 8, the country of just below 5.5 million residents had 1,455 confirmed cases of infection and 26 deaths. Many shops and businesses have already reopened under strict sanitation and distancing rules.

Domestic and foreign observers lauded the “intelligent quarantine” put in place by the government and diligently observed by the trusting public, while mainstream media’s responsible and professional coverage of the pandemic has also been credited with the country’s success. Slovakia was one of the first European countries to put an airtight seal on its borders and showed no hesitation in making the wearing of face masks compulsory.

The constitutionality of some measures was challenged by lawyers and activist groups who claimed that the government-mandated placement of most individuals in quarantine upon their entry to the country was founded on hazy legal footing. But this wasn’t enough to silence the applause from abroad.

Widely praised, at home and abroad, to its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in Slovakia, Matovic’s government will quickly have to deliver on its anti-corruption promises if it wants to keep the public’s trust in the long-run.

On the home front, the passing of the manifesto largely flew under the radar of the general public whose attention had been fixed on the gradual restart of life in the country. Yet those who kept tabs on the government’s promises were on the whole seeing eye-to-eye in their lukewarm reception of the document.

A flick through the dense manuscript reveals vague formulations, experts and political rivals suggest. “We appreciate the fight against corruption, but answers to the biggest problems are missing,” political movement Progressive Slovakia (PS), the former party of president Caputova, wrote on social media.

Citing the lack of solutions to systemic and long-term social drawbacks as well as a clear proposal to mitigate the effects of the corona crisis, the progressives bemoaned the amount of empty promises. “These times require brave steps forward to overcome challenges that await us,” the movement’s verdict on the manifesto read.

Trust issues remain as Slovak government unveils manifesto

Opposition leader Robert Fico from the Smer-SD party who lost his premiership to Matovic in the past election flung a hail of criticism on the new government, accusing it of neglecting the threat of the pandemic in its manifesto. “It’s unreal, schizophrenic, and made up. It’s Matovic’s science-fiction,” he said.

Left-leaning civic groups argued that “the government’s program statement fully reflects the ideological clash in the coalition” and predicted future conflicts within the ragtag cabinet, which comprises parties positioned at distinct ends of the political spectre, from Matovic’s conservative ‘OLaNO’ and the populist ‘We Are Family’ to the libertarian-leaning SaS and the principled-liberalism advocated by the ‘For the People’ movement.

Despite the government’s intention to achieve a balanced budget by 2024, former finance minister Ivan Miklos called the plan idealistic and “financially unfeasible… although desirable”.

Other economic experts welcomed the administration’s desire to ease red tape on the free market. “The systematic improvement of the business environment in order to improve Slovakia’s position in international rankings is ambitious and positive,” Peter Golias from the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms said.

According to the World Bank, doing business in Slovakia is harder than in most European Union countries. In Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia came 59th, below the likes of Oman or Namibia.

Transparency in the judicial system, one of the cornerstones of OLaNO’s campaign pledges, is of prime importance to Matovic’s government. Judges and courts grabbed the spotlight in recent corruption scandals that exposed the meddling of several justices, attorneys and prosecutors with mobster figures of the likes of Marian Kocner, who currently faces charges of ordering the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak.

A November 2019 Eurobarometer survey showed that 72% of Slovaks did not trust their judiciary system, the second worst result in the EU behind Croatia. Matovic wants to bring clarity in these murky waters by involving the public in the selection of judges and revamping the composition of two major judicial bodies – the Judicial Council, or the highest judicial self-government body, and the country’s top court, the Constitutional Court.

But according to law watchdog VIA IURIS, several proposals lack the flesh of definite action from the government. “The manifesto presents a very progressive and ambitious plan in the field of the rule of law. If executed properly, it will increase public trust in the judiciary. But in several instances, the government is only outlining possibilities of change and development, rather than pledging direct commitment,” a statement said.

Written by Edward Szekeres

Edward is a freelance reporter from Slovakia with Hungarian heritage. He is currently based in Belgium and the Netherlands where he is completing his international journalism studies. He is a regular contributor to several platforms delivering news and analyses in English from V4 countries and a thick-skinned fan of sport clubs that only keep on losing. You can check all his articles right here!

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