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EDITORIAL

Who is winning and losing in regional elections?

MOTHER nature is the enemy of regional elections. At least, that is the conclusion drawn by many official party representatives after election day on November 26.

MOTHER nature is the enemy of regional elections. At least, that is the conclusion drawn by many official party representatives after election day on November 26.

According to them, it was not local political parties that failed to address the most urgent problems facing their regions and consequently mobilize their constituents to vote, the weather was to blame for one of the lowest voter turnouts in Slovak history.

After the first regional elections churned out just 26 percent of eligible voters - a disappointing result according to many - analysts predicted that voter turnout could not possibly sink lower. After all, Slovaks would have had four years to understand the importance of higher territorial unit elections.

Indeed, this is what politicians said too. They predicted more voters would go to polling stations, particularly since an increasing amount of power and money was now flowing into regional purses. With the transfer of competencies from state to regional governments, politi-cians assumed that Slovaks would be more mindful about who was in charge of the local purse.

Analysts and politicians were wrong. Only 18 percent of Slovak voters showed up to exercise their democratic right. It must have been the snow.

Another interesting conclusion drawn by politicians - victory across the board! If one is to judge the results based on party declarations, this election had no losers.

Even the Slovak Communist Party (KSS) "is now starting to build its position in the regions". Never mind that it did not manage to obtain a single seat in any of the eight regional parliaments.

Although all parties claimed victory, it did not keep analysts from saying otherwise. Movement for a Democratic Slovakia boss Vladimír Mečiar was singled out as a "loser par excellance".

After the HZDS's failure in the 2002 national elections and in the presidential elections in 2004, the party posted another major defeat in the recent regional elections.

Mečiar has often said that blood coming from neglected regions in Slovakia nourishes his party's body. When he was prime minister, he rewarded those regions that supported him. He even tried moving key state institutions to Banská Bystrica, a region that traditionally supported Mečiar's ideas.

This time, as in previous times, Mečiar remained silent after election results showed the HZDS performing poorly in the regional elections. Mečiar, battling pneumonia, did not intensively campaign for his nominees, apart from a few scrawny rallies packed by pensioners.

It is the routine flavour of it all - another election defeat - that is making HZDS members nervous. These are businessmen who joined and sponsored the movement hoping to get some power influence in return. Now, when they see the HZDS losing in its traditional regional strongholds, they are losing hope that they will achieve a return on investment.

Some HZDS members are in league with their other colleagues, only more passionately so. They say the weather repelled HZDS voters even more than other party supporters. Part of this claim might be legitimate: many HZDS voters are older people.

HZDS member Katarína Tóthová said that HZDS voters had difficulty making it to polling stations.

The outcome of the regional elections confirmed the curse of Smer. Always tops in the polls, Robert Fico's party always performs far worse in actual elections. Although it enjoyed 30 percent support in surveys, Smer was not a clear winner in the elections, if Smer could be declared a winner at all.

Of course, Fico took the opportunity to declare that Smer had met its goals. According to Fico, parties could not talk about winners and losers with such a low turnout.

The ruling coalition parties were favoured by the voter turnout, however. They won in five of the eight regions: Trnava, Bratislava, Žilina, Prešov and Košice. In Nitra, the ruling coalition shares power with the opposition.

The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) is part of the victorious coalitions and hopes to see three of its nominees win in the run-off elections for high territorial unit (VÚC) chairman. The party gained 87 seats out of a total of 412.

The election results negated one assumption: that poorer regions have a tendency to vote for leftist parties. Prešov voted for a coalition of rightist parties - the KDH, Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the Democratic Party.

Some say that a positive signal put out by voters was their rejection of Pavol Bielik, a former KDH member accused of bribery. Bielik maintains his innocence and decided to run in the elections. Some interpreted his candidacy as a sign of disrespect towards voters.

The Nitra race received intense media attention for the tension between the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the so-called grand Slovak coalition (the SDKÚ, KDH, Smer, HZDS, SNS). The grand coalition was created to weaken the influence of the Hungarian ethnic party in the region. The SMK gained only 17 seats while the coalition took 34.

SMK boss Béla Bugár still talks about success, however, and he assumes that parties of the "grand" Slovak coalition will pursue their own interests rather than band together. He assumes the Hungarians will continue to cooperate with the rightist parties. However, he did admit that, this time, "Slovak nationalism won" in the region.

The election results in Nitra do not change the fact that ethnic Hungarians will continue to support the SMK. Analysts assume that it will be a while before ethnic Hungarians select political parties based on political agenda rather than on the ethnic principle.

Analysts and politicians again restated their hope that four years from now, in the next regional elections, voters will understand the importance of regional elections and the turnout will swell. However, in order for this to happen, political parties will have to prepare more relevant and appealing political platforms. And perhaps Mother Nature will have to be kinder.


By Beata Balogová

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