Commentary by Cyril Koky: Slovakia has a Romani MP - what about the Czech Republic?
The early parliamentary elections in Slovakia on 10 March 2012 were a great victory for the Směr sociální demokracie (SSD) party, which became the absolute winner with 44 % of the vote. Parties on the Czech political scene can only dream of such an unbelievable result. Right-wing parties in Slovakia completely lost, in particular due to the "Gorila" scandal involving allegations that bribes worth millions of euros were paid to Slovak officials for public-procurement and privatization contracts (see this article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21543398).
Eight Romani candidates on the lists of various political parties in Slovakia won a total of 11 268 votes, and one Romani candidate made it into parliament: Peter Pollák, who ran for the Obyčajných ľudí a nezávislé osobnosti (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities - OľaNO) party. He won a total of 6 072 votes, placing him in 14th place on the candidate list and seating him in the National Assembly of the Slovak Republic. This is the first time a Romani representative will be seated in the legislature in the recent history of an independent Slovak Republic.
This is a great success. I am convinced Peter Pollák will be just as good of an MP, if not a better one compared to the other newly elected members. The leader of OľaNO, Igor Maťovič, deserves great thanks for pushing to include Pollák at an electable spot on the candidate list.
The Rómskej únie na Slovensku (Romani Union in Slovakia - SRÚS) party completely failed in the elections. Only 2 891 people cast their ballot for the party, which received only 0.11% of the vote.
In my view another positive aspect of the Slovak elections is the failure of Ján Slota and his SNS, which did not get into parliament. This is a great victory for democracy and for Slovak political culture. The party is infamous for its harsh invective against Hungarians living in Slovakia in particular, as well as against Romani people.
Romani people in the Czech Republic have very few political representatives at local and municipal level and it is very sad that the Romani minority does not yet have a single representative in parliament. The last Romani representative in the Czech Parliament was Monika Mihalíčková, who served from 1998 – 2002.
This state of affairs does not bode well for the Romani population in the Czech Republic. I believe it would be only fair of politicians here to stop making excuses, to stop claiming that Romani people are not represented because they don't vote or haven't managed to organize. On the contrary, it is up to the politicians in this country to offer Romani candidates electable spots on their candidate lists. The Romani national minority has around 250 000 members in this society, according to unofficial estimates, and they should be represented.
In a proportional representation system it should be the responsibility of every political party to offer Romani candidates electable spots on their candidate lists irrespective of whether Romani people have managed to organize themselves or not. Nominating a Romani candidate is a gesture in and of itself. Political representation through the large political parties could significantly help emancipate the Romani minority in the Czech Republic.
Understandably, this would require a certain courage and openness on the part of the Czech political parties. Unfortunately, few political parties ever decide to take such a step during the elections. It might not pay off for them to advocate for an active solution to Romani people's problems. The public does not exactly perceive the issue in a positive light. On the contrary, when politicians demonstrate that they are hard-line when it comes to addressing the "problem of the Romani minority", especially during elections, it can lead to electoral victory.
It is, however, a great failing that too few Romani voters go to the polls. The Romani votes that might be won are not a relevant motivator for any political party, which is a great shame. The reason for low Romani turnout may be the feeling that the parties are not interested in Romani people's everyday problems and do not offer beneficial solutions to them. On the other hand, Romani people themselves are partially responsible for the political parties' lack of interest, because Romani people don't vote much and don't run for office. That means they are not interesting for politicians come election time. Politicians cannot count on Romani votes, so they have no need to offer beneficial solutions to Romani people's problems.
I believe a credible, strong Romani representation could do a great deal to improve this situation overall. Political parties might then start considering Romani people as a political force that could add its weight to their side of the scales in the next election.
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