Local vote leaves all sides satisfied

THE RECENT municipal elections in Slovakia, which were the fifth held since the fall of communism in 1989, confirmed that the Slovak right wing continues to be strong in larger cities while left-wing parties enjoy increasing popularity in rural areas and smaller towns.

THE RECENT municipal elections in Slovakia, which were the fifth held since the fall of communism in 1989, confirmed that the Slovak right wing continues to be strong in larger cities while left-wing parties enjoy increasing popularity in rural areas and smaller towns.

While political parties argued over what the election results really meant - the left-wing Smer party having declared the results as an election victory - the new mayors and councillors prepared to take their posts in mid-December.

Analysts agreed that one of the biggest surprises to come out of the December 2 vote was the defeat of Ján Slota, the four-term mayor of Žilina, who is also the leader of the ruling coalition Slovak National Party (SNS).

Slota was upset by a right-wing coalition candidate, Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) general secretary Ján Harman, after serving for 16 years as the mayor of Žilina. According to SDKÚ leader Mikuláš Dzurinda, the Žilina results was "a true election bomb".

According to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, the head of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank, Slota was defeated in Žilina, a city that had been considered a "bastion of the SNS", because his governance of Žilina was accompanied "not just by evidence of his skills, but also by major doubts regarding the transparency of decision-making".

For instance, Slota consistently refused to publish information that people were entitled to see under the Free Access to Information Act.

While right-wing coalition candidates won mayoral races in five of eight regional capitals, with only two cities falling to left-wing candidates, independents running for mayor and council also enjoyed considerable success in the elections.

According to Mesežnikov, the elections confirmed that in Slovakia, "the urban environment is more favourable for centre-right parties".

Other analysts noted that in smaller municipalities, such generalizations were not possible.

Peter Horváth, a political scientist with Trnava University, said that in smaller towns and villages, people often voted on the basis of their personal contacts with candidates, whom they tended to know in person.

"Voters often know these candidates much better [than those in larger cities], and even have personal ties with some of them, meaning that they don't regard them so much from a partisan point of view," the analyst said.

Of the candidates for municipal that were supported by a single party, rather than by a coalition, those running for Smer enjoyed the most success, taking 19 percent of seats, followed by independents, who took 17.1 percent. In the case of mayoral posts, independents dominated, taking nearly 31 percent, while Smer came second with 14.4 percent (also see chart, this page).

With regards to winning candidates who were supported by a coalition of parties, the most successful grouping was the current ruling trio - Smer, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Slota's SNS - who took 1,011 of the 2,903 mayoral posts. The opposition SDKÚ, Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) won 575 seats, while the remaining 895 mayoral posts went to independent candidates.

Of the 21,272 councillors elected, the current ruling parties won 8,484 seats, the opposition parties took 6,616 seats, and independent candidates 3,638. The remaining candidates, who ran for mixed coalitions, won 2,534 seats.

The relative success of independent candidates confirmed that, unlike in parliamentary elections, local personalities that are well known have a good chance of success in municipal politics even without the support of a political party.

Locally and nationally known personalities beat favoured political nominees in many races, none more surprising that the victory of lawyer Pavel Hagyari, who ran as an independent and was elected mayor of Prešov in eastern Slovakia, one of Slovakia's biggest cities.

Several parliamentary parties said they were satisfied with their results in the municipal elections, although only the ruling Smer claimed to have won the vote.

"Smer won the municipal elections. The party is now strongly embedded in towns and villages," PM Fico said at a press conference on December 3.

According to Fico's main opponent, ex-PM Mikuláš Dzurinda of the SDKÚ party, the PM's claim was "an absolute lie".

"I don't think that any party in Slovakia can say they won the elections," Dzurinda said, noting that many mixed coalitions ran in the elections, and that the opposition had dominated the races in regional capitals.

"People's decisions in municipal elections were influenced mainly by the personalities of the individual candidates rather than by their party affiliation," Dzurinda said.

Another surprise in the municipal elections was the relatively high turnout of 47.65 percent, which was much higher than the 30-35 percent generally expected before the vote. Voter turnout has fallen in each successive municipal election in Slovakia.

Four years ago, the turnout was 49.5 percent, down from 54 percent in 1998.

According to Andrej Danko, the head of the Central Election Committee, the turnout was generally lower in towns and cities, where it averaged 36.76 percent, and significantly higher in villages, at 61.93 percent.

Analysts believe the fact that the turnout was only slightly lower in 2006 than 2002 means that the declining trend has reached bottom, and that Slovaks have probably realized the importance of municipal elections.

Municipalities gained extensive powers over the last four years through the decentralization of public administration as well as through the huge funds that they will be receiving thanks to fiscal decentralization. Both changes were carried out under the previous right-wing government.

Next year alone, municipalities will be receiving nearly Sk90 billion in centrally collected income taxes compared to the Sk30 billion they got five years ago before fiscal decentralization.

Thanks to the decentralization process, most of the money raised in income tax goes straight to the municipalities rather than to the central government for re-distribution.

Who won the elections?
Share of mayors elected*
Supported by: 2002 2006
Independent 32.66 30.83
Smer 2.33 14.43
SMK 8.00 7.40
HZDS 13.19 7.30
KDH 7.07 5.58
SDKÚ 4.36 4.44
Share of councilors elected*
Supported by: 2002 2006
Smer 4.50 19.00
Independent 13.46 17.10
KDH 13.52 12.24
HZDS 16.59 11.71
SMK 9.54 9.17
SDKÚ 4.96 6.79
Source: Pravda, Slovak Statistics Bureau
*Candidates who were supported by one party only.

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