Slovakia’s 150-seat Národná rada or National Council was up for election on June 12. Following the last election in 2006, Smer led by Robert Fico formed a majority coalition government with the right and far-right.
Slovakia became independent on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful divorce with the Czech Republic. Nationalist feelings have always run high in Slovakia, despite their cultural affinities with Moravia. During the Czechoslovakian years, Slovaks felt that they were second-class citizens in a “Prago-centric” government dominated by Bohemia. Furthermore, an Hungarian minority (12%) living along the Hungarian border has often contributed to nationalist feelings, because Slovaks are wary about Hungary’s territorial or political pretensions in Slovakia (Hungary already annexed these ethnic Hungarian areas in 1938). When Slovakia became independent, it became politically dominated by a nationalist and conservative movement led by Vladimír Mečiar and his party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Mečiar’s party won the 1992 and 1994 elections and fell only two seats short of a majority in 1992. Under Mečiar, Slovakia became something of an international pariah and Mečiar was lauded by the west and Washington for his statist economic policies, his authoritarianism and growing corruption in his government. He also entered into open warfare with the President, Michal Kováč, to the point that the opposition alleged that Mečiar had organized for the kidnapping of Kováč’s son. Mečiar lost the 1998 elections despite the HZDS coming out in front of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda. Dzurinda formed a government with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP) and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL). From that point on, Mečiar’s influence slowly diminished – he lost the 1999 presidential election 57-43. Dzurinda’s liberal economic policies as well as his efforts towards Slovakian integration into the OECD (in 2000), the EU and NATO won him much praise from the west and Washington who regarded Slovakia’s late liberalization with a positive eye. However, at home, Dzurinda’s government suffered allegations of corruption as well as attacks from the left that his policies were hurting poorer Slovakians. Dzurinda’s new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and its coalition partners won the 2002 election, though the HZDS remained the largest party while the SDL collapsed to 1.4% to the benefit of Robert Fico’s Smer, which quickly gained popularity as the SDL’s popularity dwindled through its association with the government, unpopular on the left. Despite the apparent success of Dzurinda’s policies, Slovaks felt that the neoliberal reforms were hurting poorer people. Fico’s Smer won the 2006 election, winning 29% of the vote and 50 seats against 18.4% and 31 seats for Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS. The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), founded in 1990 and led by the loudmouthed controversial Ján Slota returned to Parliament with an historic 11.7% and 20 seats. Slota’s SNS is best known for its extremely inflammatory anti-Hungarian (“the cancer on the Slovakian nation”) and anti-Roma (“the best strategy with them is a long whip in a small yard”) rhetoric. Fico formed a very controversial government with the SNS and Mečiar’s ĽS-HZDS (which won 8.8% and 15 seats). Some have argued that Fico’s coalition with the SNS is only an opportunistic move which does not reflect any fascistic desires on Fico’s part, but the Smer government thus far has proven that Fico has a penchant for saber-rattling nationalism. Fico’s economic policies have been described as populist, and, according to the right, unsustainable. He was also lauded for legislation aimed at curtailing press freedom as well as his nationalist policies which have stirred tensions with Hungary and significantly worsened inter-ethnic relations in Slovakia. The results have also been negative: in terms of corruption rankings, Slovakia fell from rank 49 to rank 56. While his economic policies were at first successful, boosting growth, his insistence on raising social spending during a bad economic crisis has led to a -4.7% growth rate in 2009 and the deficit now represents 6.8% of the GDP. Slovakia’s budget deficit may swell to 7.4% of its GDP this year.
The opposition has had a very hard time throughout Fico’s term as his government and party maintained high poll ratings. Dzurinda’s leadership was criticized within the SDKÚ-DS, and the party suffered from division as well as Fico’s government being more than happy to launch probes into corruption in Dzurinda’s government between 1998 and 2006. The MKP has also suffered recently from the creation of a new party, Most–Híd (the Slovakian and Hungarian words for ‘bridge’) which has criticized the MKP as a narrow-minded and single-issue party while it wishes to appeal to Slovakian voters and build strong inter-ethnic relations. On the positive side, Mečiar’s party continued its route down the drain and is now in terminal state. Ján Slota’s aggressive rhetoric as well as the general incompetence of SNS ministers has also hurt the SNS, though the SNS managed to win its first MEP in 2009 though on only 5.6% of the vote. Dzurinda recently resigned the leadership of the SDKÚ-DS and was succeeded by Iveta Radičová, the party’s 2009 presidential candidate but a low-key public speaker and authoritarian party figure. Out of this situation, a new and somewhat unusual party has emerged, led by Richard Sulík and named Freedom and Solidarity (SaS). SaS is a neoliberal/libertarian eurosceptic party which is also liberal on social issues – supporting marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. It has accused Fico of lying on the state of the country’s finances. SaS has significantly helped the opposition as it represents the type of “change” which voters want – that is, something that’s new and less corrupt than either Smer or SDKÚ-DS. Through an innovative internet and Facebook-based campaign, it has managed to lure young voters as well as Smer voters. Smer has had a harder time in this campaign than originally expected partly as a result of SaS, but also increased public blame laid on Fico for the pitiful state of finances.
Here are the results:
Smer 34.79% (+5.65%) winning 62 seats (+12)
SDKÚ-DS 15.42% (-2.93%) winning 28 seats (-3)
SaS 12.14% (+12.14%) winning 22 seats (+22)
KDH 8.52% (+0.21%) winning 15 seats (+1)
Most–Híd 8.12% (+8.12%) winning 14 seats (+14)
SNS 5.07% (-6.66%) winning 9 seats (-11)
MKP-SMK 4.33% (-7.35%) winning 0 seats (-20)
ĽS-HZDS 4.32% (-4.47%) winning 0 seats (-15)
SDL 2.41% winning 0 seats (±0)
turnout 58.53% (+3.86%)
On a geographical basis, Smer dominates in almost all of Slovakia and most particularly in ethnically Slovakian rural or small town land. Smer’s nationalist and populist rhetoric likely does very well in these parts, and has always been the base of either Smer or the ĽS-HZDS in the past. Smer is much weaker (20% wins) along the Hungarian border, which has large concentrations of Hungarians. Unsurprisingly, SDKÚ-DS did best in Bratislava and its suburbs, wealthier and more liberal. Bratislava was also the SaS’s best result, with around 18%. While the old MKP-SMK polled only 1% or so in Bratislava, Most–Híd did poll around 12% or so in Bratislava, maybe an encouraging sign for inter-ethnic relations and an inter-ethnic party in Slovakia. Outside of Bratislava and the Hungarian areas, Most–Híd did predictably poorly.
The incumbent Smer-SNS government (ĽS-HZDS is out) has only 71 seats out of 76 required for government. A ‘right-wing’ government comprised of SDKÚ-DS, SaS, KDH and Most–Híd has 79 seats, and given SaS leader Richard Sulik’s statement that his party would consider any option to unseat Fico, it seems likely that a centre-right government, likely led by Iveta Radičová will emerge from this election. The SDKÚ-DS campaigned on a platform to cut spending and to reduce to debt against Fico’s plan to increase social spending while not increasing taxes (while still promising to cut the budgetary deficit…).
Some people who like pointing out international electoral trends often know less than they actually know, but it is interesting to note (while not necessarily attempting to infer trends) that the last three European ballots (or four, if you include the UK) – Czech Republic, Netherlands and now Slovakia have been won by coalitions of or individual centre-right parties which aim to cut spending in order to cut the budgetary deficit. That being said, the PS’ likely big win in Wallonia on a platform of being “the best shield against the crisis” (aka, we won’t cut social spending) could contradict that.