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2016 Elections: Two Political Updates from Slovakia

11th March 2016


Peter Fecko, Managing Director for CEE region writes a blog on the results of the parliamentary elections in Slovakia:

I´ve been keeping an eye on the U.S. presidential primaries and caucuses over the last few weeks. The phenomenon of Donald Trump, in particular, but also Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, which had been looking promising until recently. If I should describe from my perspective the primary season and the mood of the American voters, it seems to me that it is an anti-establishment election in which Americans are showing their opposition to “traditional” politicians.

And now, over 7,000 kilometres (over 4,000 miles) from the United States, in Slovakia, a small country located in the heart of Central Europe, with just 5 million citizens, a general election was held on March 5th. Slovak voters, like those in the American primaries, showed their reluctance to vote for traditional, establishment parties. SDKU-DS, the Social Democratic Party and one of the traditional parties, had under the leadership of Mikuláš Dzurinda launched democratic and economic reforms at the end of the 90’s which resulted in Slovakia joining the EU and NATO, and made this small country a competitive and growing market economy. Well, SDKU-DS received less than 1 percent of the vote in the 2016 general election and will not be part of the new Slovak Parliament. KDH, the Christian Democratic Party and another traditional party which has been part of the Slovak political scene since the fall of communism and has always been an integral part of right-wing governments, also failed to pass the threshold for the new Parliament.

There are, of course, many factors that have led to the failure of the traditional right-wing parties in this general election, but the message sent by the Slovak voters is clear. For many Slovaks, this election have been one of defiance and the voting has reflected their loss of faith in traditional, establishment parties as well as in their "old" politicians who they consider corrupt and untrustworthy. These politicians have also failed to meet their needs and solve their everyday problems. This defiance can be seen in the SMER-SD Party’s results too. SMER-SD yet again won the election under the leadership of the Party Chairman and current Prime Minister Robert Fico, but received less than 30% of the vote overall, compared to 44% in the 2012 general election.

 This has allowed parties that can be more or less characterized as “anti-establishment” to enter Parliament on the right-wing: First, SAS, a liberal party, whose leader, Richard Sulík, (and also the new leader of the Slovak right), openly criticizes the EU and many of its decisions. Second, the OĽaNO Party of Igor Matovič which has a broad spectrum of candidates whose unifying element is harsh criticism of traditional Slovak politicians who they accuse of corruption and populism. Last but not least, there is a completely new party established by businessman Boris Kollar, whose program is de facto unknown to most people, but which has for a long time categorized politics in Slovakia as rotten and evil and was supported by many disaffected voters.

However, the second update from Slovakia is far worse. For the first time since the fall of communism in 1989, there will be a radical ultra-nationalist party in the Parliament: the People's Party – Our Slovakia (LS-NS), openly referred to as “neo-Nazi”. The party is led by Marian Kotleba, who openly denies the Holocaust, and its members often proudly wear the brown uniforms of the Fascist Hlinka Guard formed during World War II. Other European countries have experience with radical parties in Parliament, for example neighbouring Hungary and the Jobbik party. However, the high percentage of the vote that LS-NS secured is a shock not only for Slovakia, but for the whole of Europe, and is a serious warning to the established Slovak political elite. One of the reasons for LS-NS’s success is certainly concern regarding the immigration crisis which the whole of Europe is now facing and which has been perceived very sensitively by the typical Slovak voter. This topic was a common theme amongst populists from across the political spectrum during the election campaign.

So what happens next? Complicated, lengthy negotiations aimed at establishing a new Government, while Slovakia is under additional pressure as in four months’ time it will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It would be a major disgrace to be without a functioning and stable Government at that point. Following the political tradition, Robert Fico and his SMER-SD party will most likely be instructed to form the new Government as it is the largest party following the election. In order to obtain a majority in Parliament, SMER-SD will need right-wing parties to join it in coalition. The option that SMER-SD would form a coalition with the radical ultra-nationalist party LS-NS is, I hope, completely unrealistic, for this would mean the beginning of its destruction.

If the SMER-SD Party is unable to form a governing coalition, the SAS Party of Richard Sulík will be given the opportunity to try as it received the second highest number of votes. However, the prospect of SAS forming a Government without SMER-SD, which SAS has long criticized, are even more remote. In either scenario, it would mean a broad, non-homogeneous coalition of parties with different priorities and interests. And that is why there is a possibility that a new general election will be needed. It is questionable whether another election would resolve the impasse or rather further strengthen the defiance of Slovak voters, and thus parties such as LS-NS.

Strangely enough, the presence of LS-NS in the Parliament might help political negotiations and facilitate a compromise which, in normal circumstances, political parties and their voters wouldn´t be willing to accept. I am sure that all of those who did not openly vote for the fascist party LS-NS will welcome almost any alternative which would ensure that Kotleba´s extremist party will never be in the Government of the Slovak Republic.


Peter Fecko

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