WHILE most Slovaks may remember their physics teacher saying that "matter never gets lost it only gets transformed", this law of nature does not apply to parliamentary elections scheduled for June 17. Many people feel their vote may be lost if they cast it for a party that is unlikely to win the 5 percent support it needs to qualify for parliament.
The problem is not that the Slovak political arena offers too many choices, even though there are 22 parties in the running, but that people feel compelled to vote for the strong players to prevent other parties from gaining power.
Eight years ago, voting for or against Vladimír Mečiar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) did not leave a bad taste in people's mouths. Many recall that there was something intense and even revolutionary about saying "no" to an administration that had taken Slovakia to the verge of international isolation.
While Slovakia has progressed a great deal since them, the current elections open up even deeper moral dilemma for voters.
While Slovaks had hoped they had heard the last of political mantras such as "vote for the lesser evil", many continue to vote against certain parties rather than voting for their favourites.
In this spirit, a considerable number of people will vote for parties of the ruling coalition, not because they identify with the party or approve of the behaviour of its politicians, but because they hope to prevent politicians they disapprove of from coming to power.
While for many it was Mečiar who needed to be stopped back in 1998, today it is Robert Fico that people worry about.
The elections have a cold logic of their own. While not casting a vote at all may be a way of expressing disapproval of politics in general, on a pragmatic level it could help parties win that the voter approves of even less, and that further harm the political environment.
The prospect that in 2006 only about half of the nation will turn out for the election implies that people have stopped caring about the logic of the vote and will not bother to leave their homes and walk to the polling station unless they have a really strong motivation - either a party that they accept without serious reservations, or someone they view as a serious threat to democracy.
People at some point have simply stopped trying to solve dilemmas such as "whom to vote for if you don't identify with any of the parties".
Four years ago, when poll results caused serious doubts about the success of the SDKÚ, the party of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda still collected enough votes to form the government.
Political analysts said that part of the nation had given one more chance to Dzurinda rather than opening the door to the untried Robert Fico or the too-often tried Vladimír Mečiar.
While Mečiar has become a caricature of himself and is growing tired of the fight, Fico is at full strength, and determined to succeed this time.
Slovakia has abundant experience with "voting against" instead of "voting for" parties. This is also how the nation voted for two of its last presidents, Rudolf Schuster and Ivan Gašparovič.
Their images appear on the country's symbols not because the nation loved and trusted them but because they were still a better prospect than allowing Mečiar who was running for the post, to take the presidential palace.
In principle, the against-vote should reduce dilemmas, because it helps the voter to define the worse possible scenario as well as the election choices that reduce the likelihood of this scenario coming true.
Optimists say that unless Slovakia is forced to choose between the Slovak National Party, the communists, a semi-fascist party running in disguise, and Fico's Smer, the country is not faring badly. But many feel that the against-vote implies that there is something disturbing in the state of politics.
Political analysts offer some comfort with the explanation that the lesser of two evils principle is commonly used in modern electoral politics, and that voters even in developed western nations are often advised to vote for candidates they might not like but whose election will help society to avoid chaos.
While this should comfort voters who feel bad about throwing their vote away simply because they couldn't find a party they trusted, it shouldn't comfort politicians. One day, their voters might just stay at home.
By Beata Balogová