On Saturday, Slovaks will vote on their parliamentary representatives for the next four-year legislature and some observers already ascribe historical significance to the upcoming election campaign. The elections are taking place after four challenging years, which were marked above all by the murder of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The double murder triggered a series of protests against the government and numerous revelations of corruption and mafia contacts right up to the cabinet of the then Social Democratic head of government. Slovaks, whose confidence in institutions and the rule of law has been deeply shaken, are now demanding changes. However, it is difficult to predict who will form future government just a few days before the election.
According to a non-public election poll conducted last week (no more polls may be published within two weeks before the election), the “Direction – Social Democracy” (Smer-SD), which with a small exception of two years has been dominating the Slovak government since 2006, remains the strongest party with about 17 percent. However, its popularity is steadily declining. Together with its coalition partner, the Slovak National Party (SNS), Smer-SD tried to push through a package of social measures worth 800 million euros in an accelerated procedure just before the elections. On Tuesday, four days before the elections, parliament adopted the most expensive of the proposed measures – a law introducing the 13th pension (meaning virtually a 13th month’s salary for pensioners). In the end, the other measures were not adopted.
The democratic opposition voiced strong criticism of the planned social package. They accused the two coalition parties not only of placing an economic burden on the future government, but also of working with extremists. In fact, the extraordinary parliamentary session to discuss the social measures had to be convened with the help of the ultra-nationalist and right-wing extremist “People’s Party of Our Slovakia” (L’SNS), as the smaller governing party “Brücke” (M-H) did not support the extensive social spending.
Even if the Social Democrats won the election, it would be difficult for them to form a government coalition. The current tripartite coalition will most likely not be able to defend its majority. According to the latest election poll, SNS and M-H would even miss the required five percent hurdle and not enter parliament. Since M-H is currently the only party representing the interests of the Hungarian minority in parliament, there is a real possibility that the minority will not be represented for the very first time.
Smer-SD cannot count on the possible support of the democratic opposition parties either, as they had already clearly ruled out cooperation with Smer-SD in advance.
Some media speculate about a potential cooperation of the Social Democrats with the extremist L’SNS, whose popularity lies at around 10 percent. In order to achieve a majority in parliament, however, the parties would have to find other partners. The Social Democrats’ top candidate, though, vehemently rules out any form of cooperation with L’SNS.
Nevertheless, the growing popularity of extremists in Slovakia gives cause for concern. The ultra-nationalist anti-system L’SNS challenges democracy, professes its support for the fascist Slovak state during the Second World War and wants Slovakia to withdraw from the EU and NATO.
The political scientist Michal Cirner from Prešov University points out that the party is not only supported by fascist-minded voters. According to the political scientist, L’SNS is also an option for supporters of the Smer-SD, who no longer want to tolerate the numerous corruption scandals and see no other alternative.
The Democratic Opposition’ s Turn
This offers an opportunity for the parties of the democratic opposition to form a functioning governing coalition. However, any optimism is to be treated with caution. The demands of the currently strongest opposition party ” Common Folks and Independent Persons” (OĽaNO) will be decisive.
The anti-corruption movement OĽaNO caused a surprise when it became the second strongest force in the election polls in February. With about 16 percent, OĽaNO is in second place, very close behind the leading social democrats. At the end of January, the party was still at eight percent in polls, and in autumn last year it was even below six percent.
Experts agree that the protest movement is benefiting from the powerful campaign and the strong personality of the extravagant and difficult to calculate party leader Matovič.
Apart from the fight against corruption, which is the movement’s central theme, OĽaNO focuses on everyday problems of citizens. However, their proposed solutions are not always so easily implemented, wherefore OĽaNO is accused of populist tendencies.
Shortly before the elections, Matovič organised an online vote on eleven topics, which it promised to push through in a coalition agreement depending on the support of the population. Other parties of the democratic opposition described the initiative as populist, while OĽaNO defended the method as direct democracy. If OĽaNO insisted on including all the points in a coalition agreement, this could make the formation of a cabinet considerably more difficult.
The latest election polls show that the pro-European alliance PS/Spolu, which won the European elections in Slovakia last year, would enter parliament as the fourth strongest force with just over 9 percent. PS/Spolu is a list combination of the liberal movement “Progressive Slovakia” (PS) and the party “Together – Civil Democracy” (Spolu). The joint list must receive at least seven per cent of the votes in order to get into parliament. In fifth place with around 8 percent is the party “For the People” (Za ľudí), which was founded by Slovak ex-president Andrej Kiska.
Compared to autumn, support for the two groups, which at the end of last year were unsuccessfully discussing the formation of an election coalition, fell by around three percent. However, their entry into parliament is crucial for the formation of a democratic coalition. The election results of the liberal and slightly Eurosceptic “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) will also be important for possible coalition negotiations. Both parties are just above the five percent hurdle.
The spectrum of democratic opposition parties in Slovakia is diverse, which is also associated with some differences of opinion. Nevertheless, the parties agree that they are ready to cooperate after the elections and believe in the success of political negotiations. After all, their weighty common goal is to prevent the next Smer-SD government.
Editorial Note: After the editorial deadline of the article, results of a new non-public poll were announced. According to the poll, the opposition movement OLaNO would win the elections with 19.1%. Smer-SD would take the second place with 15.6%.
Project Manager, FNF Central Europe & the Baltic States