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Cabinet crisis rocks voter preferences

THE FIRST public opinion poll conducted since the departure of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) from the ruling coalition suggests that the conflict of interest allegations against ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko have taken a toll on Rusko's liberal party.

THE FIRST public opinion poll conducted since the departure of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) from the ruling coalition suggests that the conflict of interest allegations against ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko have taken a toll on Rusko's liberal party.

Data released on September 19 by the public opinion research institute, the ÚVVM, in cooperation with the Slovak Statistics Office, showed that the ANO's voter support slumped from 4.5 percent to 2.1 percent in one month - far below the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

While several other parliamentary parties also saw a drop in voter preference over the past month, none suffered such a major setback as the ANO (see accompanying chart).

Analysts say that one public opinion poll is not enough to indicate political developments and that "more polls are needed to confirm trends". However, analysts agree that Rusko has a lot to do with the ANO's decrease in popularity.

"The New Citizen's Alliance is an alliance of one citizen [Rusko] and the problems of this citizen caused the drop in preferences," said Ľuboš Kubín, a political analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

The ANO has a different explanation for its latest disappointment in the polls.

"The poll was taken in Žilina just before the [ANO] party congress in Žilina. Slovak citizens were not sure who exactly the ANO was at that time," said Magda Krasulová, a spokesperson for the ANO.

In August, when Rusko refused to step down as economy minister despite his involvement in a dubious financial affair, a group of high-ranking ANO members, including deputy chairmen Ľubomír Lintner and Jirko Malchárek, formed an alternative ANO platform, which pledged loyalty to the ruling coalition in opposition to ANO leader Rusko. Before Lintner and his followers were expelled from the ANO at the party congress in Žilina, there were two ANO party factions.

Krasulová told The Slovak Spectator September 20 that the ANO's future efforts "will be directed to regaining voter support" for a single ANO party.

ANO secretary general, Juraj Puchý, doubts that the drop in voter preference is a long-term deal. "It is now clear that Pavol Rusko remains the ANO leader and the situation will [eventually] go back to its original state," he said.

Meanwhile, Rusko accuses the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) along with the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) of plotting the "liquidation of the ANO".

Pavol Marchevský, a sociologist with the ÚVVM, says the recent poll indicates the public's current mood but nothing more.

"Only polls to come will show us whether any change in opinion has really taken place," Marchevský told the daily, Hospodárske noviny.

Marchevský agrees with his colleague Kubín that Rusko is largely at fault for the decline in the ANO's popularity. Kubín added that the ANO is paying a price for operating not as an ideological party but rather as a "marketing party" or a "firm led by Rusko".

Apart from ANO, the SDKÚ recorded a 3.2 percent decrease in voter support, earning 7.4 percent of September's vote.

The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia also suffered a slight decrease, losing 0.7 percent month-on-month, scoring 11.6 percent in September.

The opposition Smer party, led by ambitious chairman Robert Fico, capitalized on the ongoing cabinet crisis. With a record 35.4 percent, up 3.7 percent compared to August, Smer topped the polls.

Kubín believes that Fico, a constant critic of the ruling coalition, has successfully seized the opportunity to "accumulate a great group of opposition voters".

When it comes to elections, however, voters often behave differently than polls suggest.

Ahead of the 2002 national elections, polls indicated that Fico enjoyed 20 percent of the voters' support. Final outcomes revealed that Smer only took 13.5 percent of the vote.

"Shortly before elections voters may divert from their tendencies. In the case of Smer in 2002, we can say that its root voter base is probably smaller [than voter preferences suggest]," said Kubín.

Analysts as well as the parties themselves eagerly await future polls to see what the trends will tell them. Until then, however, analysts are busy discussing the ÚVVM poll results.

Based on the poll results, Smer would gain 62 MP mandates in Slovakia's 150-strong parliament, KDH would have 22 MPs, HZDS 20, the Hungarian Coalition Party 18, the nationalist Slovak National Party 15 and PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's SDKÚ party would land just 13 MPs.

Voter preferences before and after parliamentary crisis

  September 2005 August 2005 2002 election
Smer 35.4% 31.7% 13.5%
KDH 12.3% 7.2% 8.3%
HZDS 11.6% 12.3% 19.5%
SMK 10.5% 10.9% 11.2%
SNS 8.8% 6.2% 3.3%
SDKÚ 7.4% 10.6% 15.1%
KSS 4.8% 5.0% 6.3%
SF 4.4% 4.1% NA*
HZD 2.6% 2.7% NA*
ANO 2.1% 6.6% 8.0%

* Free Forum (SF) and Movement for Democracy (HZD) were created after the 2002 national election.

Source: Slovak Statistical Office

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