21/09/2002 - D-7
The future government coalition will be the result of intractable compromise
Since the electoral law prohibits the publication of any opinion polls two weeks before the official end of the campaign the last survey was published on 5th September. It was undertaken by the research department of the Slovak Radio between 28th August and 1st September. It reveals that eight political parties should be in a position to attain the 5% required to be represented on the National Council of the Republic, the only house in Parliament. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) was the voters' favourite with 20.5%, followed by the SMER (Direction) led by Robert Fico with 15.8%. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) won 10.8% of the intention to vote, the Slovak Christian Democrat Union (SDKU) - Mikulas Dzurinda, the Prime Minister's party - 9.5%, the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) created by Pavol Rusko - 8.3% and the Christian Democrat Movement (KDH) 7.8%. There are two parties just above the 5% threshold: the Movement for Democracy (HZD) with 5.2% and the Communist Party with 5.1%.
The survey previous to that, undertaken between 16th - 28th August put the SMER ahead for the very first time with 17.6% of the intention to vote followed by the HZDS (17.3%). The Hungarian Coalition Party followed .(SMK) with 12.7%, the SDKU with 12.3%, the ANO with 9.4%, the Christian Democrat Movement with 6.9% and the HZD with 6.1%. 70% of the voters said they would go to the ballot box on 20th-21st September (the participation rate at the last elections on 25th-26th September 1998 reached 83.5%).
If we look at the pre-electoral surveys published over 2002 two comments come to light.
First the radical fall in support for Vladimir Meciar's Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) credited with 31% of the intention to vote in January, 27% in May, and down to 18.7% in July and even 17.3% in the survey carried out mid-August. Its main rival, Robert Fico's SMER, credited with approximately 15% of the vote throughout the year, indicates a slight improvement just a few weeks before the vote. The Government leader Mikulas Dzurinda's, Slovak Christian Democrat Union (SDKU) varies between 9 and 12%, just below the Hungarian Coalition Party (10-13%).
There are distinct differences between the results provided by the various polling institutes. The rise of new parties has made it difficult to provide estimations. A true evaluation of the political movements present has been made both complicated and risky for voters and pollsters alike. Apart from the SMER and the ANO the Slovak political scene has recently been enriched by a new party, the Movement for Democracy (HZD), a group created by the dissidents from Vladimir Meciar's Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). This party, led by Ivan Gasparovic who was previously close to the HZDS leader, recorded 5.3% of the intention to vote in July reaching 9% in August but falling back to 5-6% at the beginning of September.
Support for the Movement for Democratic Slovakia is on the decline but the party remains in the lead nevertheless according to the polls. It is in trouble due to the antipathy it has engendered amongst two-thirds of the Slovak population. Vladimir Meciar, its leader, who was both anti-European and anti-NATO for a long time has now made a complete U-turn and has not missed one opportunity to confirm his firm pro-Atlantic and Community commitment. In spite of this unconvincing turn about, the HZDS might very well find itself in the same position as in the previous election on the eve of 21st September ie in the lead in the elections but without any political alliance that will enable it to form a government.
The SMER, that has regularly held second place in the polls over the last few months, has focussed its campaign on criticising the ruling parties and the HZDS, and has not been able to avoid populist trends. Robert Fico, its leader, has protested against the measures taken by the Government in favour of minority populations. "The rules have to be clear for the Roms: first of all, obligations and then rights. We are very much aware of who the Roms are who want to do nothing for the State and who simply ask for social security" he said. The New Citizens' Alliance, another recently created party that presents itself as being liberal, would, on the contrary, like to amend the Constitution in order to offer a better protection of rights to minorities. The ANO would like to create a European Commission Agency for Minorities and a centre to take care of the Roms' specific problems.
The Slovak Christian Democrat Union (SDKU) has been left behind according to all opinion polls. During the campaign, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, its leader, promoted an overview of his term of office declaring that out of 10 electoral promises three had been fulfilled completely (construction of 14,000 houses annually, creation of 150,000 jobs and a drop in private revenue tax) and four were partially completed (of which the increase in pensions, and the extension of maternity and parental leave). The Prime Minister admits the inadequacy of his achievements in the social domain: the rise in wages has not been equal to the promises made, unemployment has risen and problems in financing healthcare are far from being solved. Mikulas Dzurinda has also stressed the improvement in Slovakia's position on the international scene and especially in terms of the European Union, that it hopes to join in 2004. "We suggest that we continue and finish the journey we started in 1998. Other possibilities are now open to our citizens : they can vote in favour of a return to policies of hate, violence, intolerance and to isolation. They can also take a third route. It is uncertain and we are inexperienced. Those promoting this way are trying to win the favour of the public opinion with a demagogic electoral programme", said Mikulas Dzurinda at the beginning of September.
Another major movement is the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) which is now running neck and neck with the Slovak Christian Democrat Union, and is using an electoral programme designed for all of Slovak citizens ie (increase of the minimum wage, construction of motorways, etc.). The SMK, that is a defender of the Hungarian minority's rights, is stressing its activities during the last government; this led to necessary administrative reforms and the creation of the post of Mediator. The party says that it is in favour of the creation of a Hungarian university and the appointment of a Hungarian bishop.
370,000 new voters will be called to ballot on 20th - 21st September. According to the various opinion polls, unemployment, housing, corruption and integration into the European and Transatlantic organisations are the main themes motivating young Slovakians - subjects that are not so distant from the concerns of the rest of the population. New voters, who represent 10% of the electoral body, seem to tend towards new parties (SMER and ANO) and have been enticed by nationalist movements more than the rest of the population; their confidence in the parliamentary parties is extremely weak. In 1998, most of the first time voters did so in favour of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for Democratic Slovakia, a third chose the Democratic Slovak Coalition (SDK) led by Mikulas Dzurinda.
One week before the elections, that take place on the last two days of the week as in Czechia, it is hard to see which alliances will predominate in constituting the future Slovak government. Whatever Vladimir Meciar's score, he will probably not been in a position to find the necessary support to form a majority. However a party's influence on the national political scene and its ability to oppose will depend very much on its results. Apart from the HZDS, no political movement has ever really managed to assert itself in the Slovak Republic. So we shall have to wait until the end of the negotiations that will start just after the official announcement of the results to see who will rule over Slovakia in the future.