Fico warns of centre-right government

THE OFFICIAL election campaign has barely begun, but awareness of the nearing general election is already creating turmoil on Slovakia’s political scene. Politicians have started travelling around Slovakia and meeting potential voters with growing enthusiasm. At the same time as opposition parties are using trucks and even ambulances to drum up support, with some of their politicians going to meet voters in their own living rooms, Prime Minister Robert Fico has been criticised for using government buildings to promote his Smer party and has toned down his previously confident rhetoric by admitting that he is not 100-percent sure that he will form the next government.

THE OFFICIAL election campaign has barely begun, but awareness of the nearing general election is already creating turmoil on Slovakia’s political scene. Politicians have started travelling around Slovakia and meeting potential voters with growing enthusiasm. At the same time as opposition parties are using trucks and even ambulances to drum up support, with some of their politicians going to meet voters in their own living rooms, Prime Minister Robert Fico has been criticised for using government buildings to promote his Smer party and has toned down his previously confident rhetoric by admitting that he is not 100-percent sure that he will form the next government.

On April 16 the cabinet was convened for an extraordinary session that resulted in seven ministers being ordered to draw up, by April 28, an analysis of the consequences of a halt in the construction of new highways and dual carriageways.

Fico told journalists after the session that the move was a response to what he called “highly likely attacks”, in the event that a government of centre-right parties is formed after the election, on the public-private partnership (PPP) projects which his government has used to fund highway construction.

“This is not a fable,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “We base our assumptions on the events of 1998, when a right-wing government put an end to construction of highways and dual carriageways and thus caused irreversible damage not only to the state’s economy but contributed to regional disparities.”

The opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) denied that it intends to halt or slow down the construction of highways, but said it would emphasise the need for greater efficiency in PPP projects.

Fico criticised the opposition for considering PPP projects inappropriate and for their opinion that highways should be financed from the state budget and EU funds, SITA reported. The EU Operational Programme for Transport for the 2007-2013 period allocated €1.114 billion for highway construction. Fico said this is almost nothing compared to a loan from the European Central Bank for the D1 highway project package of €1 billion. The sources in the budget have never exceeded Sk12-13 billion (€400-430 million), he said.

The SDKÚ’s Ivan Mikloš, however, responded by saying that the decision about how much to allocate for highway construction from the state budget was made by Fico’s cabinet.

According to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, the director of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, the prime minister’s timing in bringing up the topic of PPP projects suggests it might be an attempt to draw attention from other issues – such as the problems with the e-toll tender recently highlighted by criticism from the European Commission.

Referring to the cabinet’s extraordinary session, Mesežnikov said it was a PR event organised by Smer.

“[Fico] assigned the ministers to work on some impact studies, and there’s really no need to have an extraordinary session of the government for that,” he told The Slovak Spectator, adding that it was a political communication and part of election campaigning.

However, observers noted that Fico’s statements were also significant because they represent the first occasion that he has admitted he might not be the one to form the next government, following the election.

“It’s good news for the opposition that Prime Minister Fico admits something he’s been denying until recently, saying that Smer is dominant and will continue ruling for another term,” Mesežnikov said, noting that by doing so Fico has shown some realism in his thinking.

The analyst believes that the strengthening position of the centre-right parties in polls earlier this year is disturbing Fico.

“He is attacking the right as much as he can, and yet [its] support remains rather solid,” he said.

Fico’s attacks from his ministerial perch continued on April 20, when he again convened a press conference at the Government Office and warned against the possible formation of a government comprised of five centre-right parties: the SDKÚ, the Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Most-Híd and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS).

“We are rational politicians and we must also admit the alternative,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA, adding in the same breath that such an alternative would threaten Slovakia by bringing political instability.

According to Fico, what unites centre-right parties in Slovakia is their hatred of his Smer party. He then named the opposition parties one by one, saying that if the SDKÚ were to govern the country it would make every effort to privatise strategic companies, halt highway construction and introduce fees for healthcare. He went on to claim that the KDH would give preferential treatment to the private education sector and introduce university tuition, and that the SMK would bury the language law and try to found another Hungarian university in Slovakia, SITA wrote.

Criticism of the prime minister’s decision to use the Government Office to hold such press conferences intensified following Fico’s statement. The KDH called on him to stop making threats and to hold party press conferences at Smer headquarters instead. The SMK also reacted, saying they regarded the press conference as an abuse of prime ministerial power.

Fico dismissed such suggestions, saying that he merely wanted to speak about the stability of Slovakia amid the economic crisis, SITA reported.

In the light of the state of politics nationwide, and also the recently published results of a poll of voter preferences, Fico’s concerns about centre-right parties assuming power might seem somewhat premature.

According to Mesežnikov, the centre-right parties will be able to form a government only if one or both of Smer’s two ruling partners – the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) – fail to clear the 5-percent threshold to win seats in parliament, and at the same time the centre-right parties together receive more votes than Fico’s Smer and whichever of the HZDS or SNS make it into parliament.

But an opinion poll by the Median SK agency, the results of which were published on April 20 and which mapped the mood among Slovaks throughout March, showed nothing close to such a scenario.

According to the poll, only 31.4 percent of respondents were absolutely sure they would vote in the election and only five political parties were predicted to make it into parliament. Smer would emerge strongest, with 44 percent of votes, followed by the SDKÚ and KDH, both with around 13 percent. The SNS attracted 7-percent support, and the HZDS 6-percent.

According to the poll, neither of the Hungarian parties (the SMK and Most-Híd) would make it into parliament, nor would SaS.

However, a poll by the Focus agency published on April 21 painted a different picture. According to this poll, conducted in April, Smer was still the most popular party, on 36.8 percent of the vote, followed by the SDKÚ on 13.4 percent. But it found that SaS, on 11.5 percent, was the third most popular party. The KDH and the SNS both polled 8.6 percent. The poll also found that the HZDS, the SMK and Most-Híd would all – just – have crossed the 5-percent threshold and won seats in parliament too.


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