13/02/2012 - Analysis
The Slovakians are being called to ballot on 10th March next in early general elections after the vote of no-confidence in the National Council, the only chamber of Parliament, on 11th October last against Prime Minister Iveta Radicova's government (Democratic and Christian Union and Democratic Party, SDKU-DS). This is the third time that general elections will take place early (after those of 1994 and 2006) in the country since independence in 1993.
2,971 candidates have been registered on 26 lists, including 15 which presented 150 people (numbers of MPs) (+8 in comparison with the last election on 12th June 2010). Since 2004 Slovakians living abroad have been able to take part in the general elections. In 2010 only 5,861 of them voted.
The leftwing opposition, represented by Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD) led by former Prime Minister (2006-2010), Robert Fico, is the main favourite in this election.
The political crisis
On 11th October last the National Council voted 124 against, (55 in favour and 60 abstentions) the adoption of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) approved by the 27 European Union Members of State and Government on 9th May 2010, which is designed to protect the Union's financial stability by providing financial assistance to the States in the euro zone which find themselves in economic difficulty. Prime Minister Iveta Radicova associated the ratification of the European text with a confidence vote in her government. This strategy failed since MPs preferred to say "no" to the government in office – which rallies the SDKU-DS, Most-Hid, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) – to the detriment of the EFSF, about which Slovakia was the last EU Member States to express its opinion. The MPs in the main opposition party (SMER-SD) and all of the representatives of Liberty and Solidarity (except for one) voted against.
"The 2 in 1 vote was a desperate last chance because the government parties had been negotiating intensely since May but compromise solutions which would have enabled Freedom and Solidarity to save face had been rejected over the last three weeks,
" declared Marek Rybar, a political analyst at the Comenius University. The SDKU-DS leader, Mikulas Dzurinda offered a compromise to the SaS leader, Richard Sulik, offering the government coalition's support to the appointment of Kamil Krnac, the SaS candidate, for the leadership of the National Security Bureau (NBU) and the upkeep of its ministers in government in exchange for his party's support to the EFSF. But it was all to nought. Richard Sulik criticised the linking of the confidence vote to the European text, which he qualified as "blackmail", on the part of Prime Minister Radicova. The SaS highlighted the fact that Slovakia, the second poorest country in the euro zone, was unable to lend money to States in debt or to pay for the recapitalisation of the banks.
On 14th October the EFSF was adopted in a second vote 114 votes in favour, 30 against and 3 abstentions. Robert Fico (SMER-SD) voted in support of the European mechanism this time round. "'No' to Iveta Radicova's government but 'yes' to the EFSF,
" he declared. The day before, Parliament approved a constitutional law enabling the organisation of early general elections on 10th March 2012.
The Slovakian Political System
The National Council (Narodna rada Slovenskej republiky) comprises 150 members elected for 4 years by proportional election from blocked lists in one single national constituency. In order to stand in the elections every party or movement has to pay a deposit of 16,596€, which is returned if its rallies at least 10,000 members. If the party has less members than this it can however deliver a support petition bearing the number of signatures that enable it attain this figure. The parties which won more than 3% of the vote in the previous general election have the right to a State subsidy. Every party has to win at least 5% of the vote cast to be represented in parliament – a coalition of 2 to 3 parties has to win at least 7% (10% if it includes 4 parties and more). Candidates have to be at least 21 years old and live permanently in Slovakia.
6 political parties are represented in the present National Council of the Republic:
– Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), created on 29th October 1999 and led by former Prime Minister, (2006-2010), Robert Fico, has 68 seats;
– the Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) led by outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova, which merged with the Democratic Party on 21st January 2006, has 28 seats;
– Freedom and Solidarity (Sloboda a Solidarita, SaS), created in 2008 by its present leader, economist and father of the single tax in Slovakia, Richard Sulik, has 22 seats;
– the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) created in February 1990 and led by Jan Figel, with 15 seats;
– Most-Hid (which means "bridge"), founded on 30th June 2009 by its present leader Bela Burgar with 14 seats;
– the National Party (SNS), a populist movement created in December 1989 and led by Jan Slota, with 9 MPs.
Direction-Social Democracy, running favourite in the election.
Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD) has been Slovakia's leading party for a number of years. Its leader, Robert Fico, likes to mock the other parties who are obliged to campaign and to "sell themselves like brands", something, in his opinion, the SMER-SD does not need to do. Indeed the party has been campaigning since the general elections on 12th June 2010.
In October last after the collapse of Ms Radicova's government, Robert Fico indicated that the SMER-SD would remain on the opposition benches until the last day of the mandate and that it would not try to strengthen its position in parliament. SMER-SD openly used the vote on the EFSF to bring the government down, before accepting the text after achieving the organisation of early general elections. During the campaign Robert Fico will however be obliged to explain his action to some of his sympathisers with regard to the EFSF.
SMER-SD stands as the defender of Slovakian living standards and buying power and repeats that the rise in prices, which has been the highest in the European Union, represents the failure of Ms Radicova's government, whom it also accuses of having caused a rise in unemployment and the deterioration of the country's living conditions. The party wants energy and food prices to be State controlled and is planning to tax the wealthy and businesses more. In its opinion voters will have to choose "between chaos and a strong, stable government.
" According to some polls SMER-SD may win the absolute majority in parliament, i.e. 76 seats. Robert Fico says however that if he wins, he will form a coalition with another party, without saying which one it will be.
The President of the Republic Ivan Gasparovic said that he was certain SMER-SD was going to win on 10th March. "Voters should know that we need a stable government which will guarantee the reforms and Slovakia's position in the European Union, the foreign policy and the country's economy,
" stressed the Head of State.
The outgoing government coalition
The Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party's programme entitled "Four wheel drive elections" "For a difficult terrain, the four wheel drive is the best vehicle" says the SDKU-DS, which is relying on its experience. The party is promising to reduce public spending but is against increasing taxes. It hopes to simplify the tax system and keep the single rate on VAT, income tax and company tax – commonly called the "flat tax" presently set at 19%.
Ivan Miklos, the outgoing Finance Minister and the SDKU-DS's parliamentary leader, said that rising unemployment was the country's main problem. He deplores the fact that he was unable to implement a programme in support of employment which he drew up with Jozef Mihal (SaS), Employment, Social Affairs and Family Minister. He maintains that the State should guarantee a training session, offered by the public institutions; young graduates might also be able to retrain if they cannot find work within the six months following their graduation. Moreover he indicated that the budgetary deficit was due to lie at 4.9% of the GDP in 2011 (it lay at 8% in 2010) and that it may decrease to 3.5% this year and then to 1% in 2013.
Mikulas Dzurinda, the SDKU-DS leader, outgoing Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister (1998-2006) thinks that Europe will emerge strengthened from the present socio-economic crisis and hopes for greater stability in the euro zone.
"It is impossible to make a true assessment of the measures taken by Ms Radicova's government this year,
" stresses Lazlo Ollos, a political analyst – "it has approved some reforms, which it has been impossible to finalise and about which we cannot really have a debate,
" he added. "The government could not continue with the fundamental differences that existed between its various members,
" declared Grigorij Meseznikov, chairman of the think tank the Public Affairs Institute, adding, "relations with Freedom and Solidarity has worsened to the point that Prime Minister Radicova could not continue cooperation with this party, which refused to support her on this issue of utmost importance.
The SDKU-DS has been rocked over the last few weeks by the "Gorilla" affair, the name of an operation undertaken by the Slovakian information services, which blew up in December last after the publication on the internet of secret documents and conversation recordings. The latter reveal conversations between Jaroslav Hascak, chairman of the Penta financial group and several politicians between 2005 and 2006, which also contained information about how the main parties were funded. "Gorilla" reveals links between the political and business world. The SDKU-DS, in office in 2005-2006, was the first to fall victim to this, even though the other parties are also involved.
The SDKU-DS will be led by Mikulas Dzurinda. The Finance Minister Ivan Miklos and Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska (SDKU-DU) will stand in 2nd and 3rd place. The outgoing head of government Ms Radicova announced that she was retiring from political life. Mikulas Dzurinda indicated that the SDKU-DS would not take part in a government coalition with the SMER-SD, but did not rule out governing again with the SaS. The party prefers however to focus on working with its present partners including the Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) and Most-Hid.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) has suggested the organisation of a referendum on the functioning of the European Union and the euro zone on the same days as the general elections. The party wants to improve electoral participation and minimise the cost of this popular consultation. "The EFSF is the greatest threat to Europe,
" declared Richard Sulik. The party will be making the European facility one of its major issues in these general elections. "Slovakia has the lowest wages in the euro zone. How can I explain to people that we are going to raise VAT so that the Greeks can receive their pensions that are three times higher than those in Slovakia?
" repeat Richard Sulik.
The Christian Democratic leader Jan Figel, outgoing Transport Minister, defends the opposite position. In his opinion "Slovakia should not remain isolated or decline into populism. The euro is the Slovakian currency, not just that of Europe,
" he declared. Jan Figel believes that victory by SMER-SD would be the worst thing that his country could suffer. "In an election people can vote in support of SMER-SD's socialist policy that will lead to debt and the collapse of the country just as it is happening in Greece or they can choose the path of responsible freedom that we are putting forward that will lead to employment growth and economic prosperity,
" he said.
Most-Hid's programme plans for further public spending cuts to bring the deficit below the 4.9% of the GDP mark. The party has ruled out any participation in a government coalition led by SMER-SD. 8 of its 14 MPs have said that they are running as independents in the general elections.
The Other Parties
The National Party (SNS) is fighting against "the Islamisation
" of Slovakia. "I am not saying that one religion is worse than another or that another is better, I am talking about problems that come with the coexistence between Islam and the Roman Catholic Church,
" stresses Andrej Danko, the parliamentary leader of the SNS. He also hopes to organise a referendum on the country's language. Slovakian has been the country's only official language since a law was passed in July 2009. However communities, in which more than 20% of the population comprises a linguistic minority, can use another language. Acknowledged minority languages in Slovakia are Hungarian, Romany, Czech, Rusyn, Ukrainian, German, Croatian, Polish and Bulgarian.
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) which is not represented in parliament right now hopes to win its seat back. "Any result over 5% of the vote will be a success,
" indicates its leader Jozef Berenyi. He has focused its electoral campaign on four issues: work, education in a mother-tongue, the improvement of the healthcare system and an increase in retirement pensions.
2012 might be the year in which the long political career of Vladimir Meciar, former Prime Minister (1993-1994 and 1994-1998) comes to an end – indeed he announced his retirement from public life if his party, the Popular Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) did not win the 5% of the vote necessary to be represented in parliament.
The Emergence of New Parties
Over the last few months the Slovakian political arena has witnessed the emergence of some new parties. They might, even if they do not win many votes, be an obstacle to some parties, notably the SMER-SD, which might not win the absolute majority. They might also be the cause of a surprise as was the case in some neighbouring countries. In the Czech Republic, Tradition, Responsibility, Prosperity 09 (TOP 09) led by Karel Schwarzenberg and Public Affairs (VV) led by Radek John won a combined 27.58% of the vote in the general elections on 28th and 29th May 2010. In Poland, the Palikot Movement (RPP) came third in the election on 9th October 2011 with 9.94% of the vote. Finally on 4th December 2011, Positive Slovenia, founded by the Mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Jankovic won the election with 28.54% of the vote in the general elections. The Citizens' List-Gregor Virant, another recently formed party, won 8.42% of the vote.
Amongst these new parties the Party of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL), formed on 28th October last and led by Igor Matovic wants to bring new blood into Slovakian political life. Four of its candidates – Igor Matovic, Erika Jurinova, Martin Fecko, Jozef Viskupic – were elected on the SaS list in the election of 12th June 2010. The Free World Party (SSS) is led by Nora Mojsejova, a controversial business woman who presents TV reality shows. Her programme focuses on a decrease in VAT on basic foodstuffs and pharmaceutical products, an increase in the minimum wage and the minimum retirement pension and competition in the business world. Finally Nation and Justice-Our Party (NaS-ns) was formed by Anna Belousovova, who was excluded from the SNS but whose ideas resemble theirs very closely.
According to the most recent poll by the Focus Institute, published on 2nd February last Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD) is due to win the general elections with 41.4% of the vote, i.e. 72 seats. It is due to be followed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) 9.6% (16 seats), the Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) 8 .2% (14 seats), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) 7.6% (13 seats), Most-Hid 7.2% (13 seats) and the National Party (SNS), 5.6% (10 seats). Finally the Party of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities is due to make its entry into Parliament with 6.8% (12 seats). The People's Party- Movement for a Democratic Slovakia led by Vladimir Meciar is due to win under 2%.
In a poll undertaken by the Public Affairs Institute, two thirds of Slovakians (64%) have quoted employment as being the most important issue at stake in the election (the unemployment rate lay at 13.59% - January 2012); 53% also quote a decline in living standards and 29% speak of the shortcomings of in the healthcare system and corruption.