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The elections deserve more attention

GRIGORIJ Mesežnikov, director of the Institute for Public Affairs, a Bratislava-based think tank, shared his opinion on the upcoming regional elections, just three days ahead of the November 26 vote.

GRIGORIJ Mesežnikov, director of the Institute for Public Affairs, a Bratislava-based think tank, shared his opinion on the upcoming regional elections, just three days ahead of the November 26 vote. He told The Slovak Spectator that Slovaks do not give sufficient weight to electing representatives to upper-tier or higher territorial units (VÚCs) because voters do not yet realize the impact that these elected officials will have on their lives. The impact is thanks to the fiscal reforms the government pushed through in 2001, which includes the decentralization of public administration, which transferred many competencies formerly handled by the government to the VÚCs.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What voter turnout do you expect in the upcoming regional elections? Why do you think people vote in greater numbers in general elections than in municipal or regional ones?

Grigorij Mesežnikov (GM): I expect voter turnout to be low, comparable to the 2001 regional elections [when 26 percent turned out to vote - ed. note]. People do not give sufficient importance to regional governments, and that is what I think underlies the public's disinterest. The public's disgust with so-called big politics, provoked by scandal after scandal, is undoubtedly another de-motivating factor.

The incomprehensible coalition alliances within which parties with different political profiles and contrasting approaches to the execution of power join forces does not contribute to enthusiasm, either.

Polls also suggest that the public's understanding of what the regional administration does is really low. The public administration belongs to that sector that underwent crucial reform in 2001, and yet it seems that the public has overlooked the massive transfer of competencies that accompanied fiscal decentralization. More time will probably have to pass before people realize that regional administrations have more than a cursory influence on their lives and that it is, in fact, vitally important who takes a seat in the VÚC.

TSS: Can you predict what candidates or coalitions will dominate in individual regions? Do you expect any considerable changes compared to the current situation - such as a possible victory of a broad coalition of parties in Nitra against the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) for instance? Or a loss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) exclusivity in Trenčín?

GM:It is difficult to predict election results. Many more factors than just the power of a given party in the respective region are at play, including the election formula, the character of the coalitions, public awareness of respective candidates, and so on.

It is impossible to underestimate the ethnic factor as well. Hungarian voters in Slovakia are traditionally very disciplined and more mobilized to vote than regular Slovak voters, which is the SMK's biggest advantage. I would not be surprised if the SMK achieved a solid result even face-to-face with a forbidding Slovak coalition in the Nitra region. In Trenčín, I think the HZDS will be facing tougher competition than in 2001.

TSS: What results do you expect in the Bratislava and Košice?

GM: The right-wing parties have strong positions, although in these elections the rate of their fragmentation is greater than in 2001. I think that in the Bratislava region, the chances are high that the right-wing will show good results, although they will probably not repeat their triumph in 2001. I do not dare to predict the election result in the Košice region, however, because a considerably lower number of voters decide on the division of the mandates and the diffusion of the votes can be big. More votes for a few candidates can have a considerable impact on the final result and the overall power balance.

TSS: This year fewer candidates are running in the VÚC elections. How do you explain this?

GM: There are technical reasons behind this decrease. It does not suggest that parties are less interested in regional politics but rather an increased compactness of party parti-cipation. A greater number of broad coalition alliances were forged and as a result, the number of candidates decreased for both VÚC heads and councillors.

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