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Is Fico heading towards a one-party government in 2010?

Various opinion polls have shown that Smer is getting stronger. Within the current arrangement of parliamentary parties [Prime Minister Robert Fico] would only need one other coalition partner if elections were held.

Various opinion polls have shown that Smer is getting stronger. Within the current arrangement of parliamentary parties [Prime Minister Robert Fico] would only need one other coalition partner if elections were held. He would be able to choose from any of the other five, as his coalition potential is high, and cannot be compared with the situation of the HZDS party from the second half of the 1990s, when no one wanted to go with Mečiar as it would have meant losing face internationally.

In the past months, Smer has strengthened its position mostly among people who didn't vote in last year's elections. Given that 45 percent of eligible voters did not participate, he has vast potential for gaining further support. A central question thus arises: does Smer have the potential to gain enough support in 2010 elections to allow it to govern by itself?

The proportional election system that is used in Slovakia, which requires parties to gain five percent of the vote to win seats in parliament, creates room for enough parties with widely varying platforms to be successful, so every citizen in theory should find something on the political market he or she likes. So why then is one political party managing to capture the imagination of 40 percent of voters? The answer lies in the political environment.

The voter base of the three opposition parties - the SDKÚ, SMK and KDH - is miles apart in terms of ideology and values from both the current and potential Smer voter base. Opposition voters have shown no tendency to move towards Robert Fico, nor will they. They are more likely to show frustration as the current government continues to profit from the fruits of the reforms launched by the previous government, and this will turn them into even more committed opponents of Smer. The opposition parties also have limited chances of gaining new voters among the two million people who did not turn out for 2006 elections, as they were unable to win their support during their eight years in government.

As for the ruling coalition HZDS and SNS, their voters tend to be over 60, and given their steps in government so far, they are unlikely to emerge stronger from their coalition with Fico. The nationalist values stressed by the SNS will ensure it steady support of around 10 percent, but any innovations in its political agenda will take it into the fishing grounds of the political opposition, which will not add much to its own support.

Smer's parliamentary competition, whether opposition or government, are all relying on their stable voter bases and do not have clear ambitions to address new voters. Their belief that one party is not likely to take voters from another in a stable party system is leading party headquarters to be passive about addressing the public. Finally, Dzurinda's strategy of securing a high result from low turnout did not work as well as he had hoped, and will be even less effective in 2010.

Fico started to address non-voters in a systematic manner as soon as he took office. The key to understanding Smer's current popularity lies in the realization that it has discovered the political potential of this group of people. The other parties left Smer enormous room in choosing not to go after non-voters. The only question now is whether non-voters will only be a cynical political weapon, or whether parties will really begin to address them as an important part of the overall political equation.

Sme, March 28

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