12/06/2006 - D-7
In 2002 the question of Slovakia's integration into the European Union and NATO as well as the end of the country's isolation after five years of government by Vladimir Meciar (1993-1998) was at the heart of the electoral campaign for these general elections. Four years later Slovakia's European integration has been successfully completed, with the country even ranking high due to the economic results it has achieved amongst the ten States which joined the Union on 1st May 2004.
The general elections on 17th June next should allow seven or eight parties to enter the National Council of the Republic, the only chamber in Parliament. In spite of the differences in programme and the personal animosity between the political leaders the number of potential government coalitions is high and just a few days before the election it is extremely difficult to foresee which parties will form the future government. There is only one almost definite fact: the Communist Party (KSS) led by Jozef Sevc should be excluded since all political parties have declared they will refuse to work with its leaders.
The official general election campaign started on 27th May last. There were 2,354 candidates and 21 parties (of which 22.47% women) taking part. The postal vote was permitted for the very first time for anyone not living in Slovakia or for those who could not be present on Election Day.
The Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), the main party in the government coalition focussed its electoral campaign on reforms. Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), the leading opposition party is critical of the government in office and would like to the role of the State strengthened. The Christian Democrat Movement (KDH), a government party led by Pavol Hrusovsky, is promoting the defence of the family, the re-establishment of law and order and the sovereignty of Slovakia within the EU. The Hungarian Coalition (SMK) is supporting reform and hopes to remain a member of the government coalition. In promoting the enhanced role played by the State Free Forum hopes to continue the reforms. Finally the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS) has been working on a presentable, modern image of its leader Vladimir Meciar, who is held responsible for the previous state of economic under development and the isolation suffered by Slovakia in the international arena when he was the country's leader.
The Democratic and Christian Union, Prime Minister Dzurinda's party, in power since 1998 is putting forward its results and points to the improvement in the country's economic and financial situation since 2002, (6% growth in the GDP forecast in 2006). "I think that Slovakia will succeed if firstly it is educated, secondly if it is fair, thirdly if it is civil and fourthly if it is a safe country", declared Mikulas Dzurinka on 1st May last. In its programme entitled "Slovakia, this is what is at stake", the Democratic and Christian Union promises to bring down the single taxation rate which at present lies at 19% for VAT, income tax and companies right down to 15% by 2010; it has also promised to balance the State budget in the same year. The party lays emphasis on education and hopes to develop a growth economy. When interviewed about the future of his political career Mikulas Dzurinda said that for the time being he did not want to withdraw from political life and this applied whatever the results achieved by his party on 17th June next. "I love politics, I can even say that I love it very much", he maintained.
Unfortunately for the government parties economic success and the return of Slovakia to a leading place internationally do not appear to have been pertinent electoral arguments amongst a great majority of the population which says it is tired of the reforms and sacrifices forced upon it. Two thirds of Slovaks say that they have suffered due to the reforms launched by the government coalition over the last four years, and many believe that far from improving, their daily lives have become harder (price rises, end of free healthcare etc ...) The unemployment rate is still high at 16% rising above the 20% mark in some regions. The tension experienced by the government coalition along with the corruption scandals which involved some government members have somewhat damaged Mikulas Dzurinda's team's popular support.
The opposition forces and notably Direction-Social Democracy do not hesitate in highlighting the worsening living conditions of the Slovak population for which, in their eyes, government policy is responsible. Decreasing salaries, retirement pensions and the increase in regional differences within their country are regularly pointed out by Direction-Social Democracy. "Western and Eastern Slovakia are worlds apart", repeats the party's leader, Robert Fico, who accuses Prime Minister Dzurinda's government of creating unemployment, increasing inequality between the rich and the poor and finally of having destroyed "the social, ecological market economy model of the Slovak Constitution". On 21st May last Direction-Social Democracy adopted its government programme during the party's National Council that took place in Nitra in the west of the country. It promises a return to a strong Welfare State, a halt in the privatisation of public companies and the end of corruption.
Opposition leader, Robert Fico, defends the introduction of a dual VAT tax rate in place of the single tax rate as well as the establishment of a 25% tax rate on natural monopolies, banks and companies that achieve high profits, without saying what he means by "large profits". With regard to food and medicine he supports a VAT rate of under 10%. Direction-Social Democracy's economic programme plans for other social measures such as the increase in allocations for the first child from 4,460 crowns to 15,000 crowns. The social democrat party also maintains however that if these reforms are applied they will succeed in controlling the budgetary deficit within 3% of the GDP.
Direction-Social Democracy's programme, a mixture of liberal theories and social conclusions, is an attempt to satisfy the party's electorate as well as any potential political allies. Situated to the left of the political scale the party recently drew closer to the centre in order not to cut itself off from any potential partners. Indeed few parties including those on the opposition benches are in favour of the political projects put forward by Robert Fico. The party has however received the support of the biggest union, the Confederation of Unions (KOZ) via its Vice President Eygen Skultety. In December 2005 Direction-Social Democracy also signed an agreement with the Confederation. "We want a social Slovakia, we are going to encourage all union members to go and vote since the defeat of Direction-Social Democracy would also be ours", said the confederation's Chairman Ivan Slator. In fair exchange Robert Fico publicly expressed his support of Ivan Slator who plans to stand in the local elections that are to take place in December this year in Banska Bystrica (a town situated in the centre of Slovakia).
The Democratic and Christian Union led by Mikulas Dzurinda announced that it did not want to work with the two main opposition parties (Direction-Social Democracy and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia) after the elections on 17th June next. "Mikulas Dzurinda says this to attract the most conservative voters", comments Darina Malova of the Comenius University. For his part opposition leader Robert Fico maintains that he wants to form "a government whose programme will be centre-left" and "that will include the smallest possible number of parties; we should with the idea that the next government should not comprise more than two parties". This leads political analysts to comment that a future government coalition led by Direction-Social Democracy might rally the right and leftwing.
According to sociologist Pavel Haulik if the social democrat party wins the general elections on 17th June it will turn to the Christian Democrat Movement but it might also invite the Hungarian Coalition Party or Free Forum to join it in forming a government. Political analyst Miroslav Kusy says is sceptical about a Robert Fico-Vladimir Meciar alliance which has been forecast by a number of political analysts and desired by Direction-Social Democracy voters according to polls; Kusy points out: "The divide between them is too great and Vladimir Meciar would be too heavy a burden for Direction-Social Democracy to bear".
With regard to possible post-electoral alliances Vladimir Meciar, who keeps saying that it will be impossible to govern without the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has said that he did not foresee working alongside the Hungarian Coalition Party unless the latter gives up its claims of autonomy for people of Hungarian origin living in Southern Slovakia. "The Hungarian Coalition Party has to understand that the Second World War is over", he maintained. Vladimir Meciar has also ruled out working with the National Party (SNS) accusing its leader, Jan Slota of "totally lacking in political ethics". However he does not reject the support of the National Party in a government comprising Direction-Social Democracy and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Finally an alliance between Vladimir Meciar and the Christian and Democrat Movement can almost be excluded, since Meciar holds the Christian movement responsible for the "criminalisation" of his part, notably in the wake of the kidnapping of the former President of the Republic's son (1993-1999) Michal Kovac. On 31st August 1995 the President's son was found totally drunk in his car on the Austrian border. Some time later someone who worked with the secret services revealed that he witnessed the kidnapping by three Slovakian secret service members. The government led by Vladimir Meciar at the time defended the theory of an "auto-kidnap" operation. On 29th April Robert Remias, another person who witnessed the involvement of the secret services in the kidnapping died in the explosion of his car in Bratislava; the government maintained that he had fallen victim to a mechanical accident. Many areas of doubt remain in this affair as it waits on a decision by the Prosecutor of the Republic to be referred to court. The Christian and Democrat Movement mainly accuse Vladimir Meciar of having voted in amnesties when he was in power that prevented the police from doing its work and justice being done.
The Hungarian Coalition Party also has a number of heavy grievances with regard to Vladimir Meciar who according to its president Bela Burgar, "comprises a problem for the Hungarian Coalition and will remain so even after the elections". Finally Finance Minister and Vice-President of the Democratic and Christian Union says that his party would not accept Vladimir Meciar in a senior position within any government in which it was taking part.
The energy deployed by the leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in this electoral campaign in order to wipe the slate clean and to close the investigations into the crimes committed from 1994-1998 does not appear to have convinced any of the political leaders.
Former journalist Zuzana Martinakova, the Free Forum leader recently maintained that a secret agreement had been signed between Direction-Social Democracy, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Democratic and Christian Union in view of forming the next government. According to political analysts this declaration is a political manoeuvre with a view to creating trouble amongst Direction-Social Democracy sympathisers since these are the least decided and the most undisciplined of the electorate. Finally, according to the polls, the Slovaks hope that next government will rally a wide coalition of parties.
By speaking of potential coalitions political leaders are trying in fact to influence a number of voters who say they are still undecided. "The various comments on government coalitions are part of the electoral campaign and also the communication policies adopted by the political parties", points out Andrej Findor, a researcher at the Institute for European Relations and International Studies in Bratislava.
Mikulas Dzurinda says he is certain of convincing the Slovaks that their standard of living has improved with the application of the reforms he has put forward. "Salaries have increased by 6% over the past year. It is the highest increase in Europe. What more can we ask?" said the Prime Minister. "Mikulas Dzurinda is an experienced politician and the results of the next elections might be better for him than forecast in the polls", warns Grigorij Meseznikov, chairman of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). Of course, Robert Fico has been the most popular politician in the land since 2002. Last April he won a 26.5% positive opinion score in a poll undertaken by UVVM from the Statistics Office. Vladimir Meciar takes second place with 12% followed by the President of the Republic, Ivan Gasparovic (Movement for Democracy, HZD), with 11.8%.
Whilst all the polls are forecasting a high abstention rate the Church is calling on its flock to go and vote on 17th June. The results will effect everybody's personal life say the bishops who have also pointed out that the attitude adopted by the political parties in the face of Christian values and the common good should comprise the first voting criteria of the Christian electorate. The President of the Republic, Ivan Gasparovic is also encouraging the Slovaks to fulfil their civic duty.
The electoral campaign is coming to a confused, invective end with Robert Fico accusing the Democratic and Christian Union of using illegal funds; Ivan Miklos, Finance Minister and Vice President of the Democratic and Christian Union maintains that Peter Chudik, Direction-Social Democracy candidate in the region of Presov of buying Rom votes For the electoral campaign the main opposition party offered itself the services of the country's most popular TV host duo, Andy Kraus and Peter Marcin, the Democratic and Christian Union has employed the rock group Gladiator and football player Lubos Michel who is also standing for election. Finally the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has won the support of Jan Berky, a Gypsy violinist together with his orchestra "The Devil's Violin".
The most recent poll undertaken by Median VK reveals that one quarter of the Slovaks (25%) believe that social issues comprise the main stakes in the general elections on 17th June next. One third of those interviewed (36%) also say that the political party programmes will not decide how they vote.
The latest polls by Median VK published on 3rd June still place Direction-Social Democracy in the lead with 29.8% of the vote. Robert Fico's party is followed at a distance by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia that is due to win 10.6% of the vote, the Christian Democrat Movement 9.4% and Free Forum 9%. The National Party is due to win 8.1% of the vote, the Hungarian Coalition Party 8%, the Democratic and Christian Union 7.8% and the Communist Party 6.6%.
According to this poll 54% of the Slovaks said they were turning out to vote on 17th June.