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IS THE RECENT POLL A RESULT OF THE TWO PARTIES' NAME SIMILARITY, INITIAL VOTER ENTHUSIASM, OR A REFLECTION OF VOTERS' BEING FED UP WITH MEČIAR?

HZDS support tumbles, splinter HZD rockets up

LEADING opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which as Slovakia's most popular political party has traditionally enjoyed the support of nearly a third of the country's voters, has seen a dramatic 9 percentage point tumble in voter support, according to the most recent survey.
Although a wide range of political analysts say the survey results are unrealistic, some attribute the decrease of HZDS voter support to the recent turmoil surrounding the party.
In early July, Slovakia's most wanted fugitive, former secret service boss and HZDS MP Ivan Lexa was arrested in South Africa, and shortly afterwards the party faced a number of high profile defections to the splinter Movement for Democracy (HZD) party, created by former Mečiar ally and HZDS number-two Ivan Gašparovič.

LEADING opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which as Slovakia's most popular political party has traditionally enjoyed the support of nearly a third of the country's voters, has seen a dramatic 9 percentage point tumble in voter support, according to the most recent survey.

Although a wide range of political analysts say the survey results are unrealistic, some attribute the decrease of HZDS voter support to the recent turmoil surrounding the party.

In early July, Slovakia's most wanted fugitive, former secret service boss and HZDS MP Ivan Lexa was arrested in South Africa, and shortly afterwards the party faced a number of high profile defections to the splinter Movement for Democracy (HZD) party, created by former Mečiar ally and HZDS number-two Ivan Gašparovič.

Gašparovič says he started HZD because he and several other long-time faithful supporters of Mečiar were not included on the party's list of candidates for the upcoming elections.

"It's a political game of agencies," said HZDS vice-chair Sergej Kozlík, dismissing the Dicio agency's poll results.

Released August 5, the survey showed HZDS scoring 18.7 per cent, compared to 27.7 per cent in the agency's July poll. HZD, which did not exist when that poll was taken, scored 9 per cent (see Survey says, page 10).

Even HZD was surprised with the survey results. Marta Aibeková, HZD vice-chair said:

"I never really expected such successes in three weeks of our existence."

The potential trend of HZDS losing votes to the competing HZD showed up two weeks ago for the first time. In a telephone poll carried out by the Polis Slovakia agency and published August 1, HZD scored 5.3 per cent, while HZDS was supported by 24 per cent of voters. To enter parliament, political parties must score a minimum of five per cent.

According to Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Bratislava-based Public Affairs think tank, the Polis result was already a "remarkable entry" to the country's political scene, but added that it was necessary to wait and see the results of other surveys.

Vladimír Mečiar, who shortly before the Dicio survey was released said that his party was confident of gaining 30 per cent in the elections, refused to comment on the result and suggested that the speedy success of HZD was simply a result of "somebody's" interests in damaging his party. "Somebody pays for it, somebody orders it and somebody does it," said Mečiar.

But head of Dicio agency Miroslav Švec told the Sme daily that HZD, for many voters, simply represented a "vision of HZDS without Mečiar."

European Union, Nato officials and other western diplomats have repeatedly warned that Mečiar's participation in the next cabinet could stop the country's western integration efforts, because of the leader's perceived lack of commitment to democratic values shared in the two organizations.

Head of the non-parliamentary New Citizen's Alliance (Ano) party Pavol Rusko, on the other hand, hurried to explain that the poll's respondents simply mistook HZD for HZDS because "on the list [of parties that people can choose to vote for] HZD is before HZDS."

However, politicians as well as analysts agree that to gauge the true depth of HZD support and see whether the myth of Mečiar's security atop the country's political scene can be broken, observers will have to wait for more surveys, or until September 22, and the only poll that really matters.

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