12/05/2010 - Analysis
On 12th June next the Slovaks will be renewing the 350 members of the National Council of the Republic, the only Chamber in Parliament. 2,041 candidates from 18 political parties and movements will take part in this election. 7,900 prisoners will be able to take part for the first time; before this they were only allowed to vote in the presidential election. Finally one million Slovaks living abroad (mostly in the UK) will be able to fulfil their civic duty by mail. Four years ago 3,427 of them did so.
The Slovakian Political System
The National Council of the Republic comprises 150 members elected for 4 years by proportional representation. In order to stand in the elections any party or movement has to deliver a declaration certifying that it has rallied at least 10,000 members. If these numbers are inferior to this a party can however hand in a support petition bearing a number of signatures enabling it to reach the correct figure. A deposit of 16,500 € is obligatory for each list.
A political party must win at least 5% of the votes cast in order to be represented in the National Council of the Republic, a coalition of two or three parties must win at least 7% (10% if it rallies four parties or more).
Six political parties are represented at present on the National Council of the Republic:
- Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), a social democrat movement created on 29th October 1999 and led by outgoing Prime Minister Robert Fico; 50 seats;
- The Christian and Democratic Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) led by Iveta Radicova, 31 MPs;
- The National Party (SNS), led by Jan Slota and member of the outgoing government coalition, 20 seats;
- The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), chaired by Pal Csaky; 20 seats;
- The Movement for Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS), led by former Prime Minister (1993-1998), Vladimir Meciar and member of the outgoing coalition; 15 seats;
- The Christian Democrat Movement (KDH), a party created in 1990, led by Pavol Hrusovsky, 14 seats;
Robert Fico's Domination
Outgoing Prime Minister Robert Fico is undeniably the strong man in Slovakian politics. Taking office on 17th June 2006, the head of Government enjoy a high rate of popularity amongst the population. In spite of what might be said the SMER-SD leader did not modify the economic structure of the country when he took power nor did he undo most of the reforms set in motion by his predecessor Mikulas Dzurinda (SDKU), Prime Minister from 1998 to 2006.
Slovakian GDP growth lay at -5% in 2009 and is due, according to analysts, to turn positive and rise to 2% this year. In 2007 Slovakia had the highest growth rate in the EU with 10.4%. The GDP/capita represents 63.5% of the European average; it is the weakest in the euro area. Unemployment affected 14.2% of the working population at the end of February 2010, i.e. the second highest rate after Spain (19%) and before Ireland (13.2%). In addition to this Slovakia is the country amongst OECD members to have experienced the sharpest rise in unemployed (+4.1%) over the last few months. Finally foreign investments declined greatly in 2009. They totalled 244.4 million € and led to the creation of 4,450 jobs (in comparison in 2007 they reached 1,277 million and 16,852 jobs were created).
To attenuate the effects of the international crisis, Robert Fico increased State social spending thereby worsening the budgetary deficit significantly. In 2009 for the first time ever Slovakia saw the latter rise above 3% of the GDP allowed in the Stability and Growth Pact to settle at 6,3%. "Slovakia will be amongst the few countries to improve their public finances this year," declared Robert Fico who also maintains that the budgetary deficit will be brought below the 3% by 2012. The Prime Minister likes to remind people that in spite of the crisis he managed not to freeze salaries nor increase taxes. He is proud of his country's adoption of the single currency on 1st January 2009. Robert Fico also declared that he wanted Jan Pociatek former businessman, Finance Minister and craftsman of Slovakia's entry into the euro zone, to retain his post after the general elections on 12th June.
One of Slovakia's problems is that most of its investments have been made in a small number of economic sectors and only in certain regions of the country. Hence the GDP of the region of Bratislava represents 148.7% of the European average, the unemployment rate is only 4.6% whilst in the area of Presov, the latter has risen to 18.1% with a GDP representing only 34.7% of the European average, likewise the region of Banska-Bystrica where unemployment totals 21.1% and the GDP 46.9% of the European average.
Over the last two years of his term in office Robert Fico has done away with some of the measures established by his predecessor Mikulas Dzurinda such as the obligatory contribution which is paid on every visit to the doctor, or after time spent in hospital and on the purchase of medicines. He also reviewed the labour laws making them less liberal. Robert Fico also reoriented Slovakia's foreign policy, distancing it from the USA by opposing the anti-missile shield that the USA wants to set up in the eastern part of Europe and by withdrawing the Slovakian contingent from Iraq. Under his regime Slovakia also entered the Schengen area.
The SMER-SD programme includes a re-evaluation of the minimum annual salary and the introduction of a special end of year bonus for pensioners which could become a 13th month of retirement pay. Robert Fico, who wants to increase solidarity by way of the fiscal system does not want to review the single tax rate which affects both revenue, companies and VAT – all at 19%; but he does not rule out the introduction of a progressive tax on income for those who earn a salary equal or superior to 3,000 or 4,000 € monthly. He would like to continue his economic work in support of recovering State control of the country's strategic industrial heritage. Robert Fico is campaigning and repeats that if the SDKU-DS returns to power this party will upset the economy and privatise the national companies which will contribute, in his opinion, to the weakening of the State and Slovakian interests. He also maintains that the main opposition party will abolish the law on the establishment of Slovakian as the State language, approved in 2009 and it will build a second Hungarian university in Slovakia.
The main question which observers are asking is: who will govern with Robert Fico?
"The Slovakian National Party has little chance of staying in power," stresses Pavel Haulik, a sociologist at the pollster MVK. In addition to this relations between Robert Fico and Vladimir Meciar are not really the best: the results produced by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS) will be vital for possible participation in the next government. Many analysts believe that the future government coalition will only include one other party with the SMER-SD. Some political analysts believe in the SMER-SD/Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) alliance, others believe in the possibility of a coalition rallying the SMER-SD, KDH and the party representing the ethnic minorities Most-Hid (Pont).
There is little doubt about SMER-SD's victory on 12th June next. But recently and also for the first time ever people have been wondering whether the outgoing Prime Minister might be prevented from forming a government because he may not be able to rally opinion to his cause or he may not be able to put forward a coherent line of action. At least Robert Fico can be pleased at the decision taken by the Movement for Democracy (HZD), formerly the party of the President of the Republic, Ivan Gasparovic founded in 2002 and led by Jozef Grapa, which chose in November 2009 to dissolve and merge with SMER-SD.
Can the opposition win?
Just a few months ago the Democratic Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) leader, Mikulas Dzurinda, announced that he was no longer going to be head of the party. "I am taking this decision because I want the electoral campaign to focus on people, programmes and on what Robert Fico and his government have done," declared the former Prime Minister. Two people were vying for his seat: Ivan Miklos, former Finance Minister and Iveta Radicova, former Labour Minister and unfortunate candidate in the presidential election on 21st march and 4th April 2009 (she won 44.46% of the vote in the second round of the election against 55.53% for outgoing head of State Ivan Gasparovic). More popular, Ms Radicova was elected leader of the SDKU-DS whilst Mikulas Dzurinda supported her rival.
On 27th March last the SDKU-DS presented a programme putting forward 140 solutions. The first part of the text will be implemented in the first 1,000 days of the government in the event of victory in these general elections, the second during the next term in office.
On several occasions Mikulas Dzurinda has said he wanted the opposition parties to come together in view of the general elections. At the end of 2009 he called for the organisation of a meeting rallying seven of the country's opposition parties, whether they were represented in Parliament or not to form a coalition against the SMER-SD and Robert Fico. Will this rather late effort be enough for his wishes to become reality?
Has the victory of FIDESZ in Hungary affected the strategy of the parties representing the Hungarian minority?
The victory of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) led by Viktor Orban in the general elections in Hungary on 11th and 25th April last was the source of a certain level of response in neighbouring Slovakia.
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) is fighting resolutely against the law which establishes Slovakian as the official language approved in 2009 by the SMER-SD and which obliges anyone or any organisation exclusively to use Slovakian in their communications which are not private. "Our priority is to prevent the Slovakian National Party from entering government," declared Pal Csaky, the SMK leader. He said that in his opinion the best government coalitions would be those bringing together the Democratic Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS), the Christian-Democrat Movement (KDH) and his party.
Most-Hid, a party founded recently by some SMK members who rejected Pal Csaky's management style, is chaired by Bela Burgar. In view of the general elections he started negotiations with the SDKU-DS as well as with the new party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) with whom Most-Hid would like to work. "I am talking about programmes not coalition. I think that Freedom and Solidarity could be represented in Parliament and that it would be a shame to lose these votes," declared Bela Burgar.
The other parties
The National Slovakian Party (SNS) led by Jan Slot is quick to play the Hungarian card and frighten the population after FIDESZ's victory in Hungary. It wants to make any challenge to the Benes Decrees a criminal offence. The Benes Decrees (carrying the name of the former President of Czechoslovakia Edvard Benes who was elected in 1935, who led the exiled Czechoslovak government from 1938 to 1945 and who resigned in 1948 after the Communist coup d'état) were in fact four documents dating back to 1945 concerning the German Sudets and the Hungarians stipulating "the administration of German and Hungarian and traitors' national property (19th May), "the punishment of Nazi criminals and collaborators" (19th June), "the withdrawal of Czechoslovakian citizenship from the Germans and Hungarians" (2nd August) and the "confiscation of enemy property" (25th October). In real terms with these decrees around three million Germans and 100,000 Hungarians living in Sudetenland were expulsed and dispossessed of their property at the end of the Second World War. The SNS would like to "settle the gypsy issue" by making the long term unemployed work 50 hours per month for the local community in which they live. It supports the re-introduction of the death penalty and wants to merge the Agriculture Ministry with that of Environment, and the Defence Ministry with that of the Interior.
Another of Robert Fico's partners in government, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS) led by Vladimir Meciar has tense relations with the SNS. The former Prime Minister says that the LU-HZDS will win 10% of the vote and hence with SMER-SD they will be able to do without the SNS to form a coalition. "We feel like the bride- to-be," he stresses. According to Vladimr Meciar the opposition forces are incapable of rallying together as they did in 1998 when they put an end to the government he led at the time. Although it enjoys the support of many older people the LU-HZDS is however considered as a one-man party whose popularity is on the wane. This prevents it from developing and threatens its future.
Candidate for the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) for the position of Head of government former European Commissioner for Education, Culture and Youth (2004-2009), Jan Figel wants to see his party amongst the first three in these elections. He is convinced that together the SDKU-DS and his party can win more votes than SMER-SD. Pavel Haulik a sociologist from pollster MVK believes that the KDH may even achieve a better result than SDKU-DS.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) created by Richard Sulik, craftsman of Slovakian fiscal reform is not planning on working with SMER-SD. "In Direction-Social Democracy we see the party that is responsible for the moral and economic decline of Slovakia and we do not want to work with a party like this," he declared. After the regional elections on 14th and 28th November last (when the SaS won 5.8% of the vote) he said he was ready to work with Robert Fico but in no way with the SNS. "If the opposition refuses to cooperate with Robert Fico it will have to bear the responsibility of the alliance between Direction-Social Democracy and the Slovakian National Party," he said.
Freedom and Solidarity published its electoral programme, a manifesto of 120 ideas, for a better life in Slovakia, focused on the defence of freedom and on individual responsibility as well as the strengthening of solidarity. The health and social security systems as well as retirement pensions are the party's priorities who guarantees that all of the measures it was putting forward could be funded. "The State has to guarantee every citizen minimum, elementary care," says its manifesto. The SaS also points to the public debt (which totals 11,300 € per capita against 7,000 in 2008) and suggests the introduction of a constitutional rule to reduce deficits.
In 2009 the Slovaks were called to ballot three times: for the presidential election (21st March and 4th April) which witnessed the re-election of President Ivan Gasparovic, the candidate supported by Robert Fico; for the European elections (6th June) easily won by SMER-SD with 32.02% of the vote against 16.99% for SDKU-DS and for the regional elections on 14th and 28th November in which SMER-SD won, taking seven of the country's eight provinces (it lost only Bratislava).
Nevertheless the European and regional elections registered a turnout rate (19.64% on 6th June 2009, 22.9% in the first round of the regional elections and 18.3% in the second round respectively) that was too low to be of any real significance.
According to the poll by Median SK, published in April, Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD is due to win on 12th June with 44% of the vote, ahead of the Democratic Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) and the Christian Democratic Movement –KDH) which are due to win 13.1% of the vote each, the Slovakian National Party 7% and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS), 6.1%. The SaS, the SMK and Most-Hid are due to win 4.3%, 3.9% et 2.3% of the vote respectively and would not therefore enter Parliament.
In addition to this according to a poll by Polis Slovakia and Sita 42.8% of Slovkians believe that Robert Fico is highly like to retain his post as head of government. Only 19.1% of those interviewed think that Iveta Radicova may replace him after the vote on 12th June whilst 17.1% see the Christian Democratic leader, Jan Figel take the place of Robert Fico.
Source : Slovakian National Statistics Office