PREDICTABLY, parties from the country’s opposition and those which form Robert Fico’s ruling coalition clashed over their interpretations of the results of elections to the European Parliament (EP) held in Slovakia on June 6. While observers and politicians debated whether parties on the right had dominated or if the left has scored a victory, the turnout remained the aspect for which Slovakia was most likely to be mentioned in Europe-wide reports.
Though the country has slightly improved on its infamous performance in 2004, when less than 17 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in elections to the European Parliament, Slovakia still maintained its unflattering position at the bottom of the turnout table. Only 19.64 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls this year, with Slovakia the only EU member state whose turnout failed to reach 20 percent. Political leaders tended to blame the media for the low figure, but observers said that Slovak politicians often ignored European issues, leaving them on the sidelines of domestic politics.
Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party will take five seats in the European Parliament, thus contributing to the Party of European Socialists’ bloc in the EP. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) each won two seats, according to the official results published by the Central Election Commission on June 7. The SDKÚ, SMK and KDH are members of the European People’s Party bloc. The Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will each have one seat.
Neither of these parties has any affiliation, although the HZDS has been trying to gain regular membership in the EPP.
Smer, the largest party in Slovakia’s governing parliamentary coalition, received the support of 32.01 percent of Slovak voters in the ballot held on June 6 to elect Slovakia’s 13 representatives to the European Parliament. Of the three parliamentary opposition parties, the SDKÚ collected 16.98 percent of the vote, while SMK received 11.33 percent and the KDH 10.87 percent. The two junior parties in the governing coalition, HZDS and SNS, received 8.97 percent and 5.55 percent of the vote respectively, according to the Central Election Commission.
The results mean that the representation of Slovakia’s three main parliamentary opposition parties will shrink from eight seats to six in the European Parliament. In spite of this loss of two seats, the opposition parties said they see the results in a positive light, noting that in total the three centre-right parties have netted more seats than the centre-left Smer party, which finished with five mandates.
A third mandate was the only thing which the SDKÚ lacked to be completely satisfied with the election results, SDKÚ leader Mikuláš Dzurinda said on June 7.
When comparing the performance of the ruling coalition parties in popularity polls with the actual results of the EP elections, Smer dipped beneath the 40-percent level that the party had routinely recorded in opinion polls leading up to the vote.
The SNS recorded a sharp fall compared to opinion poll results, attracting only 5.55 percent of votes. In the most recent polls SNS has routinely scored around 8 percent. Anna Belousovová, the vice-chairwoman of the party said that the results were influenced by the “heavy media campaign, which brought into play all of our faults”. Despite this the SNS’s new MEP will be the party’s first.
The arrangement of mandates in the European Parliament does not say much about the real balance of power and political influence in Slovakia, according to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, but rather it indicates the ability of individual parties to mobilise voters.
Mesežnikov suggested that due to the low turnout the results are not representative enough to draw conclusions about the distribution of domestic political power.
What has changed since 2004
Since 2004, when Slovakia voted in elections to the European Parliament for the first time, the country has become somewhat more European, sociologist Pavel Haulík told The Slovak Spectator.
“The first elections were a kind of starting point for Slovakia’s inclusion in Europe after a time of exclusion and being pushed aside from the integration processes,” Haulík said. “The first elections were only the beginning. People had only a little information about how the European Union operates and from this point of view Slovakia has changed, though it was not really reflected in the turnout.”
This time the distribution of power was diametrically different from the results in 2004, when there were four parties with a relatively comparable strength who achieved almost identical results, said Haulík.
“These elections are slightly different in the sense that Slovaks have got used to Slovakia’s presence in the European Union and the functioning of representatives of Slovak political parties in the European Parliament and perhaps are better informed about what the European Union and European Parliament mean for Slovakia, though the level of information is still low and not satisfactory,” Haulík said. “However, there was obviously a shift.”
When asked about what he sees as the greatest surprises of the EP elections, Haulík said there were very few opinion poll surveys, which is further evidence that the political parties do not devote enough attention to this issue, so it is very difficult in his view to talk about surprises.
“Perhaps one of the surprises is the good result of the new party established by Richard Sulík,” Haulík said. “Very few had expected that [result] and it is in some way already flowing into the national elections.”
The new Freedom and Solidarity party established by Sulík, the co-author of Slovakia’s flat tax, got very close to making it into the EP, collecting 4.7 percent of the votes only a couple of months after it was launched.
As for the implications for the parliamentary elections in Slovakia to be held next year, Haulík said that it has become clear that there is a relatively large – and certainly not negligible – group of voters who are not happy with what is being offered by the existing political parties.
“It is as though there is a need for new faces and perhaps new topics,” said Haulík. “On the other hand it embodied a feeling that there needs to be changes in politics. If it had been a survey which had brought this information, there would have been polemic about whether it was relevant, but since [these are] election results it cannot be questioned and shows that a new party which handles its political marketing well could make it into parliament.”
Low turnout helps extremism: not in Slovakia
Due to the low turnout Europe-wide, extremist parties scored quite well in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Austria and also Hungary, where the right-wing Jobbik party gained three seats in the EP.
Political analyst László Öllős attributed their success in part to the economic crisis.
“Partly, the process of European integration has got stuck, not only as a legal process but also a cultural one,” Öllős told The Slovak Spectator. “The creation of a European identity is a very slow process and gives very strong arguments to the hands of those who do not desire this unification. Then these groups return to old ghosts and are using them.”
Öllős also listed the influx of immigrants and, in central Europe, the existence of old memories as factors fuelling extremism.
Michaela Stanková contributed to this report