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Municipal elections: low turnout, high score for solo candidates

THE LOWEST voter turnout since the fall of communism and a high proportion of independent candidates winning mayoral seats characterised the recent municipal elections.
The December 6-7 municipal ballot was attended by 49.51 per cent of the country's eligible voters, who elected over 2,900 mayors and more than 21,000 members of municipal parliaments (MPs) around Slovakia.
Analysts said one of the few surprises in the election was the large proportion of mayoral seats that were taken by independent candidates, a result they put down to two factors. One was that the majority ('first past the post') election system is used in Slovak municipal elections, while proportional representation is applied on the national level. The other reason was the greater closeness of municipal officials to their electorates.

THE LOWEST voter turnout since the fall of communism and a high proportion of independent candidates winning mayoral seats characterised the recent municipal elections.

The December 6-7 municipal ballot was attended by 49.51 per cent of the country's eligible voters, who elected over 2,900 mayors and more than 21,000 members of municipal parliaments (MPs) around Slovakia.

Analysts said one of the few surprises in the election was the large proportion of mayoral seats that were taken by independent candidates, a result they put down to two factors. One was that the majority ('first past the post') election system is used in Slovak municipal elections, while proportional representation is applied on the national level. The other reason was the greater closeness of municipal officials to their electorates.

"In regional politics in general, personalities, their previous performance and the trust they manage to gain with the people count more than political affiliation," said political analyst Ľuboš Kubín with the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

In the elections, independent candidates won 951 mayoral posts in cities, towns and villages around Slovakia, while ranking third in the amount of municipal MPs seats they gained.

In the elections, voters chose mayors from about 8,600 candidates. In addition to the independent candidates, they could chose from candidates representing more than 200 different political coalitions.

Some observers thought that the low turnout was also influenced by general voter fatigue, as this was the third time voters had gone to the polls in the course of the last 12 months. The other two elections were ballots for regional governments in December 2001 and general elections in September 2002.

When The Slovak Spectator went to print, no overall figures were available to show how many new MPs and mayors had been elected in the municipal ballot, but results showed that in the country's eight regional cities, the proportion was 50 per cent.

In four of Slovakia's regional cities current mayors kept their seats, including nationalist leader Ján Slota in the northern city of Žilina.

In central Slovakia's Banská Bystrica left-wing candidate Ján Králik also remained in power, as well as leftist Zdenko Trebuľa in the eastern city of Košice. A candidate supported by a coalition of various right-wing parties, current mayor of Trnava Štefan Bošnák, also kept his seat in that western city.

New mayors included Andrej Ďurkovský, former mayor of Bratislava's Old Town district. Ďurkovský scored a clear victory in the race for Bratislava City mayor, defeating his nearest competitor by 40,000 votes.

Following his election, Ďurkovský, a Christian Democrat, said he expected to win the election, but admitted he was "certainly not expecting such a big gap between me and my competitors."

In the western city of Trenčín, until now seen as a bastion of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), voters sent the right-wing Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) candidate Juraj Liška to power.

Another SDKÚ candidate, Ferdinand Vítek, scored best in the southwestern Nitra region. Finally, in the eastern Prešov region, the right wing lost the mayoral post to leftist candidate Milan Benč.

The left-wing nonparliamentary Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), which suffered a blow in the general elections, notched up much better results in the municipal ballot.

The SDĽ scored the fourth-highest amount of mayoral and MPs seats in the municipal vote. The party, which entered the previous government as the second-strongest coalition party and that suffered a bitter failure in the September general vote, said it was content with its performance.

"We are particularly happy that two of our members are mayors of regional towns [Prešov's Benč and Banská Bystrica's Králik]," said SDĽ deputy chair Ľubomír Pertrák.

That level of success was to be expected, Kubín said, "considering the SDĽ's well-organised regional structures and good relations with their electorate."

"On the national level the party's leaders failed, disappointing the electorate by often taking very differing positions, as if they were members of the opposition and not a cabinet party. But their politicians on the local level kept their trust with voters," Kubín said.

A number of opposition and coalition national MPs expressed regret over the low voter turnout, which had slipped considerably from over 60 per cent in the 1990 municipal elections.

Explaining the drop, parliamentary opposition Smer party vice-chief Milan Murgaš said he thought voters were simply "fed up with politics," as the national elections took place just two months ago.

SDKÚ deputy chair Zuzana Martináková said she thought politicians needed to explain the importance of the municipal elections to voters in the future.

"We thought people understood that along with decentralisation [of state powers to municipalities], more rights and more money will be given to municipalities. It seems like we have some more explaining to do," she said.

According to analyst Michal Vašečka of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, simple reasons like cold and windy weather, as well as the proximity of Christmas, caused many Slovaks to stay home or pursue other activities on the election days.

Political analyst Kubín, however, said that it was only natural that fewer people would vote in Slovakia's local ballots than voted in the general election in September.

"There are countries where one-third of the electorate votes in municipal elections. I don't think the [Slovak] turnout was bad at all," he said.

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