photo: SITA, SME - Pavol Funtál
Smer leader Robert Fico's steady criticism of the outgoing right-wing Mikuláš Dzurinda government in the run-up to elections brought him 29.14 percent of the vote and likely a strong mandate in talks between the parties to form the next government.
Second place went to Dzurinda's neo-liberal Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), which scored a strong 18.35 percent, up about 8 percentage points on what it had been polling going into elections.
The results give Smer 50 seats in the 150-member parliament, more than any party has had since Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in 1994.
In an immediate reaction to the outcome of the vote, Fico described the result as "fantastic", while his Smer celebrated by chanting and singing the national anthem.
"Our programme gained significant support in Slovakia. In reality this means that with Smer in government, not just a small group of people will profit from economic growth, as has been the case so far. There is a great chance that there will be more solidarity and more justice in Slovakia," Fico told the media on June 18.
The strength of the Smer vote surprised many political analysts, who had predicted that a low turnout would cut the party's support from the 32 percent it had been polling to the mid-20s or lower. In the event, turnout was in the mid-50s, but Smer voters apparently did not stay home as expected.
"Smer simply managed to maintain the voter preferences that polls had been suggesting for several months," said Pavel Haulík, a political analyst with the MVK polling agency, for The Slovak Spectator. Haulík added that the elections had shown that Smer's voter base was more stable than commonly believed.
Apart from Smer, PM Dzurinda's SDKÚ also had good reason to be satisfied, as its 18.35 percent was more than three percentage points up from the 15.09 percent it recorded in the 2002 general elections, even though for the past four years it has been leading a deep and often unpopular economic reform drive.
The non-parliamentary far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), led by Žilina Mayor Ján Slota, was also crowing over its 11.73 percent, which will return the party to parliament after a break of four years and a series of crippling internal squabbles.
Slota was also likely delighted that his SNS scored marginally better than the hated Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which took 11.68 percent, slightly up from its 11.16 percent in 2002.
Dzurinda said he was satisfied with his party's score, and insisted that his main ambition was to secure continuity in Slovakia's development, i.e. a return to power.
"We are happy, but not truly satisfied, because we are not convinced that even after the parliamentary elections there will be continuity in programmes and politics in Slovakia. We don't yet know whether a government will be formed that will be able to maintain and complete the reforms we started or possibly to fine-tune them, or whether it will act responsibly in Euro-Atlantic relations," the outgoing PM said.
According to Haulík, however, the SDKÚ's result was "excellent".
"The SDKÚ handled the collapse of the ruling coalition and the path towards early elections very well, and managed to remain on top of the themes that the public was most concerned by. Another factor was that, unlike the SDKÚ, its former ruling partners - the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) - were not regarded as significant competitors for Smer. That's why so many people who supported the right-wing reforms preferred to vote for the SDKÚ," Haulík said.
Of all the parties that scored over the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, the conservative KDH was likely among the most disappointed with its 8.31 percent, compared to 8.25 percent four years ago.
While SMK representatives said they were still interested in joining the new government, several leading KDH officials admitted the possibility that the KDH would spend the next four years in opposition.
Only slightly more than half of Slovakia's eligible voters turned out.
photo: SME - Pavol Funtál
As has been typical of Mečiar after bad election results in the past, he withdrew from the public after the vote and left his deputy chairmen to talk to the press.
According to the party's Viliam Veteška, "I openly admit that we are not happy with this result, but on the other hand, we shouldn't fall to our knees either."
Veteška said that the party would have a "serious talk" about its election failure.
According to Haulík, there were several reasons for the HZDS' decline in support.
"The HZDS stopped acting like a radical opposition party during the last election term, and this was not understood by many HZDS voters," Haulík said.
Unlike in the past, HZDS leader Mečiar failed to save the situation with charismatic public appearances.
"It looks like the story of Mečiar's charisma has come to an end," Haulík said.
The SNS used its traditionally anti-Hungarian rhetoric and calls for a "purely Slovak government" to attract 11.73 percent of votes.
It helped that after years of internal disunity, the party's main figures - Slota and Anna Belousovová - managed to bury the hatchet and restore the SNS to full strength. It fought the 2002 elections under two separate banners, neither of which gained enough votes to enter parliament.
The new Slovak parliament will thus operate with six political parties. Neither the Free Forum of Zuzana Martináková, formed by SDKÚ breakaways, nor the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) of Jozef Ševc, managed to achieve the 5 percent quorum.
Ševc said that communist voters had likely abandoned the KSS to vote for Smer, while Martináková merely stated that the SF accepted the outcome of the elections and would not comment further until the results were confirmed by the Statistics Office (expected in the evening of June 18).
According to the unofficial results, the SF gained 3.47 percent, while the KSS scored 3.88 percent, down from 6.3 percent in 2002.
Low turnout - many factors at play
The June 17 ballot saw the lowest voter turnout ever for a national parliamentary election in Slovakia.
The unofficial results indicated that only 54.7 percent of voters had gone to the polling stations. In the previous elections in 2002, some 70.1 percent took part in the vote, while in 1998 it was 84.2 percent.
According to the MVK's Haulík, several factors contributed to the low turnout, including the fact that "fewer and fewer people trust politicians".
"Another cause for the low turnout was that elections were held on just one day [compared to over two days in the past], while the weather also played a role, as Slovakia saw its first hot and sunny weekend so far this year. Another factor was that the election campaign lacked any real conflict, and virtually all the parties could be seen as eventual partners," Haulík said.
What happens next?
As the political parties began talking about possible coalition alliances (see story, page 1) the MPs-elect were preparing to take their seats in the new parliament.
According to Slovak law, the president must convene the first parliamentary session within 30 days of the announcement of the election results. The new MPs will then be sworn in and the parliamentary committees will be formed. MPs should also elect a new speaker and deputy speakers of parliament.
The current government officially steps down, but remains in office until a new government is established.
June 17, 2006 Election Results
|Party||score||# of seats in parliament|
|The Statistics Office|
19. Jun 2006 at 0:00 | Martina Jurinová