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Political analysts explain surprising rise in Smer's popularity

THE POPULARITY of Slovakia's strongest parliamentary party, Smer, is on the rise. As recent public-opinion surveys indicate, even more people would cast their votes for Prime Minister Robert Fico's party if elections were held now than in June of this year.

While Smer earned 29.14 percent of the votes in the June 17 elections, according to a recent median.sk public opinion poll 45.3 percent of those polled now support Smer. A Statistics Bureau survey, meanwhile, puts the number at 43.7 percent.

Sociologist Olga Gyarfášová of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank said the rise was due to the fact that people who did not vote in the June elections now tended to support Smer.

Political scientist Peter Učeň of the International Republican Institute (IRI) said that voters have so far seen neither real improvements nor real damage from the tenure of the new government.

Fico has promised voters that his government will do more for them than the previous right-wing government of Mikuláš Dzurinda, and that it will spend more on social welfare. According to Učeň, Fico has so far given the impression that he is moving in that direction.

"This gives satisfaction to uninformed people who have no idea what this government’s new legislation means," he told the SITA news wire.

Gyarfášová said she believed the suspension of Fico’s Smer party by the Party of European Socialists (PES) will not have any impact on Smer supporters, who tend to identify with Fico's view that the European socialists punished Smer for doing politics for the people. The sociologist said Smer supporters are reluctant to admit that in working with the far-right SNS, the party breached the PES rules, or that Smer’s isolation could cause the isolation of Slovakia on the international scene.

Moreover, tension with Hungary has also rallied voters to the government rather than turned them away.

"It [tensions] was proof for them that Smer and the Slovak National Party are parties that will defend the interests of the Slovak majority," Gyarfášová said.

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