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EDITORIAL

Slovakia's anemic vote

ELECTION results suggest that a little over 83 percent of Slovaks will not have a representative in the European Parliament. It is now time to take a look at what can be expected of the 14 people who will be speaking in the EP for the remaining 17 percent of Slovakia's population that did decide to vote.
The reasons for the low voter turnout are well known - voter fatigue, the EP's low competencies in areas of real concern to the public, a low degree of understanding of the modest powers it does have, and a striking absence of true personalities on the ballots of Slovak parties.

ELECTION results suggest that a little over 83 percent of Slovaks will not have a representative in the European Parliament. It is now time to take a look at what can be expected of the 14 people who will be speaking in the EP for the remaining 17 percent of Slovakia's population that did decide to vote.

The reasons for the low voter turnout are well known - voter fatigue, the EP's low competencies in areas of real concern to the public, a low degree of understanding of the modest powers it does have, and a striking absence of true personalities on the ballots of Slovak parties.

The low percentage of attending voters is interesting enough in itself. But it is also worth mentioning some of the other figures related to the elections.

The ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the most popular party in the elections, received 119,954 votes, according to the Statistics Office. In other words, it managed to win the contest by gaining the support of only 2.8 percent of Slovakia's 4,210,463 eligible voters!

If a similar calculation is made for the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the party with the least support out of those that made it to the EP, one finds that it received the backing of 2.2 percent of all voters.

The SDKÚ beat the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) by only 372 votes and the third-ranking opposition party Smer by 1,419 votes.

This clearly illustrates that there are no real differences in election performance between the various parties and thus no real winner.

The extremely low number of attending voters also makes it difficult to analyse and interpret the election results of the various parties, as they are not representative enough. In other words, given the small sample of those who attended, it is nearly impossible to deduce any generalisations explaining the voting public's decision-making or motives.

The task is made even more difficult by the fact that, in many instances, voters themselves find it impossible to explain both their decision to go to vote (on the other hand most find it quite easy to come up with reasons for not voting) and their choice of a particular party.

There does not even seem to be a direct correlation between party size and election results, which in the case of low turnout could become a factor.

The parliamentary Communist Party of Slovakia has around 23,000 members. Yet it received less than 32,000 votes in the elections. It seems that party members were not too successful at convincing friends and family to share their enthusiasm for the communist cause this time around.

The HZDS, which has the largest membership of all Slovak parties - estimated at around 40,000 heads - can be more satisfied with the work of its activists. If the math is correct, it received the votes of two non-members for each member's vote.

Both Smer and the SDKÚ, however, have much smaller membership; both around 6,000 people, and their results greatly exceed the number of actual members.

Although the future actions of Slovak MEPs are hard to assess, based on interviews The Slovak Spectator did leading up to the elections with representatives of all parties that made it to the EP, it is possible to anticipate their positions on key European issues.

In the campaign, Slovak parties generally refrained from introducing their own agenda for the EP. In most cases, their programmes and manifestos followed general lines set down by the pan-European groups.

Out of Slovakia's fourteen MEPs, 11 will belong to one of the EP's seven existing political groups. The ruling SMK, SDKÚ, and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), who together gained eight seats, are members of the conservative European People's Party (PPE).

Three elected representatives of the opposition Smer party will join the ranks of the Party of European Socialists.

The HZDS, headed by the infamous Vladimír Mečiar, has so far had trouble finding allies in the international arena and is not yet affiliated with any of the groups.

According to Sergej Kozlík, the party's leader in these elections, his party will be considering numerous options - retaining an unattached status, entering a new centrist formation headed by current European Commission (EC) President Romano Prodi, or joining a new political group which may be created by MEPs from new member countries.

Almost all Slovak candidates agree that the new head of the EC should be chosen from the ranks of the strongest political faction in the EP, which would mean a conservative politician from the PPE would replace Prodi.

KDH's Anna Záborská indicated that Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel might be a good choice. Other conservatives from Slovakia, however, may be open to the notion of supporting a non-PPE member.

SMK's EP candidate, József Berényi, who failed to reach the EP, told The Spectator that EP President Pat Cox would be an acceptable option.

The parties differ on the European constitution - some, such as the SDKÚ and SMK, prefer a prompt conclusion of the negotiations. Others, most notably the KDH, say there is no hurry to reach an agreement.

Smer's Monika Beňová also feels more time is needed to find a good deal, although she herself has few problems with the current draft. Many European governments are already considering whether to hold referenda on the new European constitution, in case the intergovernmental conference manages to reach consensus on its wording.

Most Slovak MEPs feel either that a plebiscite should not take place, fearing disinterest and voter ignorance, or that it be organised under different conditions than other referenda, in order to ensure its success.

Under current legislation, more than 50 percent of voters must attend a referendum in order for it to be valid. If the turnout in the EP elections is anything to go by, there is little chance that a quorum could ever be reached.

Only KDH's Záborská said that a referendum was desirable.

All parties called for further enlargement, although nearly all prefer not to address the possibility of allowing Turkey into the European club.

Throughout the campaign, all Slovak candidates stressed that national interests were their top priority. With that being the case in many countries, it is likely that some will be tempted to think first of all of ways to show their constituencies that they are fighting for them against foreign members of the assembly, rather than look for common European solutions.

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