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ANALYSTS SKEPTICAL ABOUT VOTER TURNOUT

Deposit rule 'slims' election field to 21

TWENTY-one political parties have submitted lists of candidates for the upcoming general elections on June 17.
Despite a new rule requiring parties to stump up a deposit that is forfeit if they don't collect over two percent of votes, the field contains a number of tiny parties who were expected to withdraw, such as the torso of the former communist Democratic Left Party, as well as the Left Bloc established by a group of defectors from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and the Civil Democratic Party (OKS), all of whose chances of winning seats in parliament are virtually nil.

TWENTY-one political parties have submitted lists of candidates for the upcoming general elections on June 17.

Despite a new rule requiring parties to stump up a deposit that is forfeit if they don't collect over two percent of votes, the field contains a number of tiny parties who were expected to withdraw, such as the torso of the former communist Democratic Left Party, as well as the Left Bloc established by a group of defectors from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and the Civil Democratic Party (OKS), all of whose chances of winning seats in parliament are virtually nil. The apparent enthusiasm of politicians for the upcoming contest is not shared by voters, however, with political analysts predicting a record low turnout.

"It will definitely be less than 30 percent, and I'm being an optimist here," said political scientist Miroslav Kusý for the SITA news agency.

Sociologist Pavel Haulík from the MVK poling agency shared Kusý's pessimism, but forecast a slightly higher turnout.

"I estimate that the turnout will be somewhere between 40 to 60 percent. People are disgusted with politics, parliament does not command their respect or trust, and in general Slovakia's democratic institutions are being degraded, including the institute of the referendum, presidential elections, and regional elections," Haulík said for The Slovak Spectator.

In the 2002 general elections the voter turnout was 70 percent, down from 84 percent in 1998 and 76 percent in 1994.

Haulík said that parties with a relatively small but stable voter base could profit from a low turnout, including the country's main right-wing forces - the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). The opposition Slovak Communist Party also may gain from low participation, while the front-running opposition Smer, with its large share of young voters, could be expected to suffer.

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's SDKÚ on March 15 was among the first major Slovak parties to deliver their election slates, which include the names of candidates they are fielding for election to the 150-seat legislature.

The HZDS of former PM Vladimír Mečiar was one of the last to turn in its list, as it left the number two and three spots open until the last moment in the hope of attracting a famous Slovak personality to join the party and help it rediscover its past voter support.

The HZDS is polling about 10 percent these days, down from a high of over 30 percent in the 1990s.

The spots were eventually filled by doctor Beata Sániová and former state official Milan Rehák, with Mečiar admitting that "celebrities didn't show much interest" in joining the HZDS as candidates for elections.

While Sániová is a political unknown, Rehák served as vice-president of the National Property Fund privatization agency under the Mečiar government in the mid-1990s.

In total, the 21 political parties presented 2,353 candidates, of which 529 (22.5 percent) are women.

The lists now go to the central election commission, which has until April 8 to decide whether to register them for the elections.


New rules


Based on the new Election Act, the June parliamentary vote will take place on one day rather than two days as in all past elections.

The law also introduced several changes to the election campaign. For the first time, parties will not have a campaign spending cap. The previous limit of Sk12 million (€320,000) was often ignored by parties, as politicians have openly admitted.

Parties will also be allowed to advertise with private electronic media. In the past, campaigning was limited to public media, such as Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRo), and print media.

For the first time, parties that wanted to compete in the general elections also had to pay a deposit of Sk500,000 (€13,333) which is forfeit to the state if the party does not gain at least two percent of the vote. Despite the added barrier, the field in the 2006 elections are larger than any past general elections save in 2002.

According to the Statistics Bureau, 18 parties competed in the 1994 general elections, 17 in 1998, and 26 four years ago.

Lívia Škultétyová, the chair of the Slovak election commission, admitted to being puzzled. "The deposit was actually meant to reduce the number of political parties competing and to prevent votes from being so dispersed [among too many parties]".

Haulík also said he was surprised at how many parties paid the deposit.

"I definitely expected a considerably lower number," he said.

Parties that submit lists are not necessarily registered for the elections. In 2002 a total of 29 parties fielded candidates, but three were disqualified for not meeting the legal requirements.

Like Kusý, who said that most of the 21 parties would play little or no role in the elections, Haulík estimated that six to eight parties had a chance of securing the five percent support required for seats in parliament.

"In the 2002 national elections seven parties entered parliament. In 2006 it doesn't look like the number will be any lower," Haulík said.

While the formal start of the campaign is two months away, parties are already jockeying for position. Smer recently launched a series of expert conferences called "Slovakia - A Modern Social State". But Smer spokeswoman Silvia Glendová has complained that journalists are "intentionally ignoring these activities" in favour of the doings of the ruling SDKÚ.

According to Glendová, "during similar events [organized by the SDKÚ] the same media burst with activity and faithfully reprint the phrases and empty speeches of Prime Minister Dzurinda and his party peers."

It is still unclear when the individual parties will present their election programmes. Some have admitted being caught off-guard by parliament's decision in February to bring the vote forward by three months from the originally scheduled September ballot.

However, some left little doubt as to their aims. The nationalist Slovak People's Party, for instance, included the extremist Marián Kotleba, the former leader of the dissolved far-right pro-Nazi Slovak Communality Party, on its candidates list, along with former Communality peer Ján Kopúnek.

The Slovak People's Party is also given little chance of polling well in the general elections.


Parties that submitted candidates lists for the June 17 parliamentary elections

(# of candidates/of female members)

Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (150/34)
Hungarian Coalition Party (150/23)
Smer (150/25)
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (150/44)
Christian Democratic Movement (150/25)
Slovak Communist Party (150/26)
Free Forum (150/48)
New Citizen's Alliance (150/50)
Slovak National Party (150/22)
Movement for Democracy (150/35)
Civil Conservative Party (150/31)
Slovak National Coalition (150/33)
Slovak Workers' Party (119/34)
Civic Solidarity Party (97/33)
Rural Agrarian Party (78/15)
Slovak People's Party (57/1)
Prosperity of Slovakia (53/13)
Left Bloc (50/11)
Misia 21 (Mission 21) (39/9)
Nádej (Hope) (31/10)
Democratic Left Party (29/7)
(Source: TASR, current ruling parties ranked first, followed by opposition and non-parliamentary parties)

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