“For the people in Slovakia”. Part of Robert Fico’s campaign.Photo: David Noack. flickr
On 10th March Slovakia held early parliamentary elections. Due to the political and economic situation and the recent scandals in the country, big changes were likely to come.
The last elections in Slovakia were held in 2010 when a centre-right coalition formed a four-party government. In October 2011, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) caused huge debates within the coalition, until finally Prime Minister Iveta Radicova linked its ratification to a vote of confidence in the government – and lost it. Since then, a caretaker government has been in charge, until a new one is formed based on Saturday’s election results.
The voters could choose from 26 different parties. Although most of the formations had no chance of reaching the 5% entrance threshold, according to polls many of them were hovering around it, leading to much uncertainty. Among these parties were for example the members of the former governing coalition. The winner, however, was almost certain: Robert Fico’s centre-left populist Smer-SD party. The question was whether they can form their own government or if they need coalition partners – and if so, which parties these would be.
In fact, Fico won the 2010 elections but he was unable to form a coalition government – therefore his party ended up in opposition. During the 2012 campaign nothing was sure regarding cooperation; more possible coalitions were mentioned – from Jan Slota’s nationalist SNS party to the Slovak-Hungarian Most-Híd party.
During the campaign some new political parties have also shown up. One of them is the 99% – Civic Voice party, which is now being investigated by the police over claims that the signatures that it submitted for registration were falsified. Another new group is the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, lead by Igor Matovic who is known for his extreme views in parliament.
Moreover, in December 2011 perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of independent Slovakia broke out. An intelligence file, codenamed Gorilla, was published on internet, reporting secret meetings during 2005-2006 in an apartment monitored by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). According to the document, political leaders and the powerful financial services provider Penta cooperated in privatisation and public procurement issues – which points to, as a SaS party statement put it, systemic corruption in the Slovakian political system.
The case gave rise to a number of rallies throughout the country of a type uncommon in Slovakia. These – mostly young – protesters want to have a say in the political life of their country, and want those involved in the case to resign. On the other hand, the Gorilla case decreased the number of those planning to vote on March 10 by increasing popular disillusionment with Slovakian politicians in general.
The most heavily hit by Gorilla is SDKÚ, the party which was in government during the time of the operation and which was the larger member of Iveta Radicova’s coalition until it collapsed. Meanwhile SaS, the junior coalition member is suffering from another corruption case – named Sasanka – that came into the open in January.
Rally against political corruption in Slovakia. Photo: infomatique. flickrGiven the general disappointment and the corruption affair, new parties and especially Robert Fico had even better chances at the election than previously predicted. New parties could say they are not involved in corrupt Slovak politics and that they want to change the political status quo (e.g. 99% or the Ordinary People). Fico – while emphasising that he was not in charge but in opposition during the Gorilla operation – could reach voters mostly through welfare promises that have always been at the core of Slovak people’s interests.
When looking at the election results, it is apparent that the question of possible coalition partners has been answered. Fico’s Smer-SD achieved a “landslide victory” of 44,41% of the votes which means that they will have 83 of the 150 seats in parliament. Therefore, Smer-SD does not need a coalition partner, Slovakia – for the first time in the country’s history as an independent nation – will have a one-party government. Although Smer-SD is still open to a coalition, the other five parties reaching the 5% threshold announced there is no way they would join Fico’s government. For example, Most-Hid vice-chairman Zsolt Simon said “Smer-SD should take full responsibility itself for the future direction of the country”.
Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that the turnout was much higher than expected (and higher than the turnouts of previous elections): 59,11% of the eligible voters – showing that Slovakian people still – or again – care about politics in their country.