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POPULAR VOTE HAS LITTLE CHANCE OF VALIDITY, OBSERVERS SAY

Plebiscite support rises

JUST over a week ahead of the referendum on early elections, opinion polls have shown a growing will on the part of the electorate to participate in the April 3 popular vote, but observers see little chance that the required 50 percent will turn out.
On March 22, the 10-day referendum campaign started with the opposition parties appealing to the public to go to the polls and cast their votes in favour of the early elections to give "a clear signal to politicians to start taking care of the people and stop stealing," says Robert Fico, the chairman of Smer, in the party's TV advertisement.

JUST over a week ahead of the referendum on early elections, opinion polls have shown a growing will on the part of the electorate to participate in the April 3 popular vote, but observers see little chance that the required 50 percent will turn out.

On March 22, the 10-day referendum campaign started with the opposition parties appealing to the public to go to the polls and cast their votes in favour of the early elections to give "a clear signal to politicians to start taking care of the people and stop stealing," says Robert Fico, the chairman of Smer, in the party's TV advertisement.

The referendum was initiated by KOZ, an organisation of trade unions, in response to the reform steps of the current right wing cabinet that KOZ chairman Ivan Saktor called a "social crime".

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) opposition party tells the voters in its referendum ads that early elections are "a step that offers a chance to resolve Slovakia's problems" and promises to abolish Sk20 (€0.5) and Sk50 (€1.2) care, halt the privatisation of the power producer Slovenské elektrárne, build highways, and help Slovak culture.

HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar told the Czech daily Právo in a March 11 interview that the "steps of the current cabinet remind one of a situation at the doctor's - he says that, to get better, [the patient needs to take] one pill per day for five days.

"But the cabinet decided that it would give him the five pills in one day and thus cure the patient quicker. But instead of healing the patient, they poison him. A patient needs protection from bad treatment."

The ruling parties, meanwhile, have defended the extensive cabinet reforms and, individually as well as jointly, called on the electorate to ignore the vote, arguing that the referendum and the possible early elections were merely means for the opposition to take power.

"Slovakia's problems cannot be solved in this way," states the ad of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union.

"Let us give this cabinet the chance to complete its regular four-year term. Early elections would only stop the reforms and discourage investors," said Economy Minister Pavol Rusko, the head of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance.

A recent opinion survey carried out at the start of March by the Slovak Statistics Office showed that 51 percent of voters were prepared to participate in the vote, which would make the referendum valid. Of those who want to go to the polls, 40 percent would vote in favour of early elections.

Despite the figures, analysts think that less than 50 percent of voters will attend in the end.

"The declared willingness to participate in a vote is, as a rule, higher than the actual turnout," Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for public Affairs, said to The Slovak Spectator.

All previous referenda in Slovakia have failed due to low voter turnout, except for the one last year on the country's entry to the EU, which was valid only thanks to a turnout slightly above 50 percent.

In addition, Mesežinkov thinks that people do not quite relate to the theme of early elections, as "their everyday problems are far from the thought, and it is still unclear whether the referendum, should the turnout exceed the needed 50 percent, would lead to the early elections at all."

It remains unclear whether the people's decision is binding on the legislators, who would have to approve a constitutional law shortening the current election term with a two-thirds majority, or 90 out of the body's 150 votes.

The opposition argued that the cabinet parties could not afford to ignore the decision of the people in the referendum, and even some officials from the ruling parties, such as the Hungarian Coalition Party, admitted that they would have a tough time deciding what to do if such a situation arose.

Another reason analysts give to doubt the success of the referendum is that those calling for the elimination of the right wing cabinet have not presented a clear vision of what would come after.

Fico, whose Smer party is the most popular in the opinion polls, has repeatedly refused to specify which parties he would imagine in the new cabinet, arguing that he would know when the results of the elections were published.

In a March 21 interview with the private TV station Markíza, HZDS vice-chairman Sergej Kozlík said that the new cabinet would include "Smer, the HZDS, and a third" and that the cabinet would be oriented more to the left than the current one, which, according to observers, may sound unconvincing to many voters.

"I think that, in reality, even the trade unions and Smer have already given up the hope that they could win the referendum," Mesežnikov said.

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