The regional elections that took place in November were definitely the biggest political event of the second half of 2013. This was not so much due to the importance of the regional governments or the interest of political parties and voters in these elections, with traditionally low turnout of slightly less than 20 percent. The highlight of the elections was the fact that for the first time in the post-1989 history of Slovakia, a far right extremist was directly elected into a high political office.

Marian Kotleba, previously known for his anti-Roma activities and his praise for the wartime Nazi Slovak state and its president, won the post of the regional governor in Banská Bystrica in the second round of the elections, with over 70,000 votes (compared to 26,000 he received in the first round of the election two weeks earlier), beating incumbent Vladimír Maňka, a deputy chair of the ruling Smer party who also serves as an MEP.

Kotleba’s success shocked observers and politicians, as hardly anybody expected him to win the run-off against Maňka, even after he surprisingly succeeded into the second round.

Mainstream political parties were quick to blame each other for Kotleba’s victory. Observers agree that it is not individuals and parties, but all politicians across the Slovak political scene, who carry some share of responsibility for this development, since they have not shied away from views, especially towards the Roma, which conflict with human rights standards.

Observers see several reasons for Kotleba’s success. Among them is the inability of the government to tackle the problems of Roma settlements, the continuous failure of the authorities to deal with serious hate crimes, and a tendency among mainstream politicians to support nationalism.

Yet, his success can be seen as part of a growing trend beyond Slovakia’s borders. Support for extremist ideas and movements is on the rise in Europe. But while in western Europe most of these forces are campaigning on negative views towards immigration, Islam and the EU, in Slovakia (and neighbouring Hungary and the Czech Republic), extremists are navigating the tide of anti-Roma sentiment.

Kotleba’s breakthrough into mainstream politics was widely compared to the headway made by extremism in Hungary, where the far-right extremist party Jobbik has had seats in parliament since April 2010.

The results of the regional elections brought few surprises to the remaining seven regions of the country. Three regions elected their leaders in the first round of regional elections held on November 9: incumbent Peter Chudík, supported by Smer, Our Region and the Party of Modern Slovakia, won the Prešov race, and Smer-backed incumbent Juraj Blanár secured his position in Žilina. Trenčín went to Smer candidate Jaroslav Baška, according to the official results announced by the Central Elections Commission on November 10.

In the November 23 second round of the election, the citizens of Bratislava Region elected incumbent Pavol Frešo, backed by the opposition centre-right parties, who collected 74.2 percent of the vote and defeated Monika Flašíková-Beňová, supported by Smer. In Košice Region, Zdenko Trebuľa, backed by Smer, Most-Híd and SMK, won the second round over Rudolf Bauer, backed by the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS). Nitra Region saw incumbent governor Milan Belica of Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Agrarian Party of the Countryside win the second round against Tomáš Galbavý, the joint candidate of the centre-right opposition parties. In Trnava Region, incumbent Tibor Mikuš, backed by Smer, SNS and the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS), won over József Berényi, supported by SMK and OKS.

Smer won the highest number of councillor seats around the country with altogether 118 elected deputies, followed by 73 independent candidates. The most successful coalition in the election of deputies to regional parliaments is the Smer-KDH coalition, which now has 57 candidates elected. The SMK will have 34 deputies as well as the coalition of the KDH, Most-Híd and the SDKÚ, and the wide right-wing coalition of the KDH, Most-Híd, OKS, SaS, the SDKÚ, SMK and Green Party.

According to Sme’s calculations, Smer will have 162 deputies out of a total of 408 elected regional parliamentary deputies, which is a 39.7 percent share. Smer, either alone or in a coalition with another party, dominates seven regional parliaments. Only in Bratislava Region, the coalition of SDKÚ, KDH, Most-Híd, SMK, SaS, OKS and the Green Party, will have 34 deputies while Smer will have a single deputy.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story

THE YEAR IN POLITICS

Smer maintains firm grip; so does high unemployment
Presidential race on deck
Political right remains fragmented
Scandals yes, but no top heads roll
Judicial independence under threat
Roma reform and human rights strategy stuck
Uncertainties in health sector remain