POLITICAL parties’ election programmes are not primarily intended for voters, who tend to make their minds up based on personal experience rather than by studying the manifestoes that parties publish in the run up to the elections. However, think tanks, political ethics watchdogs, political analysts, journalists, business leaders and opponents are all now busy studying the priorities and plans set out by the parties running for election, and are reporting their findings.
Observers have detected a stronger emphasis on social issues when compared to the documents presented before the last general election in 2006, and agree that the global downturn has served as a strong central theme for the parties. One ruling coalition party lists as its priorities support for agriculture and the countryside, increasing employment and increasing the quality of health care; while for another one the priority is to strengthen the role of the state in all sectors.
“The stronger social emphasis is a reaction to actual developments, which are also linked to the crisis, because the parties must respond to the negative impacts of the downturn,” the director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, Grigorij Mesežnikov, told The Slovak Spectator.
When asked by The Slovak Spectator to list three priorities for the election programmes, the opposition parties mostly listed creation of new jobs, healthy and sustainable finances and improvement of the business environment. Reduction of the payroll tax burden and the removal of barriers to employment also made it onto the parties’ lists.
Reform of Slovakia’s political system seems to be less of a priority this year. Back in 2002 and 2006, several parties proposed changes to the electoral system. In particular, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Smer all had prominent policies in this area, Mesežnikov said.
Now, only the HZDS is proposing major reform, mainly due to the fact that Vladimír Mečiar’s party favours establishing a second house of parliament, he added.
What Mesežnikov sees as a positive change is that the parties now tend to approach the Roma problems in terms of their social aspect. However, he does not evaluate the nature of their proposals.
“The Roma issue is not about identity – as this government assumes, building its concept based on this assumption – but is a social problem,” Mesežnikov said. “This is something that the parties now reflect quite well. What they are proposing is a different matter, though.”
Understandably, European integration is much less of an issue on the agenda of the parties, something which can be attributed to the fact that Slovakia has now been a member of the European Union for over 6 years.
According to Mesežnikov, some elections deliver a clear theme. For example, in 1998 the focus was on renewal of democracy and Slovakia’s chances of European integration, which had been nearly dashed by the preceding government’s authoritarian, populist and nationalist tendencies. In 2002, it was about the confirmation of the positive changes carried out after the return of democrats to power, he wrote in an IVO analysis.
When asked to pick the most interesting election programmes, Mesežnikov said that, generally, the current opposition parties have more concrete proposals within their programmes.
“This is linked to the fact that these are programme-oriented parties, which means that they are addressing voters through specific programmes,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “Of course, this does not mean that everything is ideal there; these programmes too have their blind spots, but they are built on shared views about how the economy or the state should develop.”
Prospects for education?
Another think tank, the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (INEKO), looked at the party programmes in terms of solutions in the sphere of education policy. It concluded that the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), SDKÚ, SaS and the SNS are offering the best solutions. By contrast, it said that the least positive contributions in this area were being made by Smer, HZDS and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). The INEKO survey was based on evaluations by 15 experts from higher education and the non-governmental sector.
The best rated proposal came from the KDH, to open up the market for textbooks, while SaS proposed a similar measure to allow schools to select textbooks. The SDKÚ has also proposed cancelling the state monopoly in the market for textbooks. The lack of textbooks has been a long-term problem for Slovakia’s education system, according to INEKO.
High marks went to proposals aimed at creating conditions that might attract top scientists from around the world to Slovakia, INEKO wrote.
The worst evaluation went to a proposal by the ruling Smer party to guarantee university education free of charge at public colleges.
“Charging fees would create conditions to increase the quality of education, but it is important that it be accompanied by a widening of the system of loans and scholarships so that the accessibility of university education is not worsened,” INEKO director Peter Goliaš stated.
The minority card
Mesežnikov said he was surprised that the opposition parties had not offered much in terms of positive programmes for the Hungarian minority.
“The Slovak opposition parties are not, for example, working with the issue of the Hungarian minority at all,” Mesežnikov said. According to him, based on their programmes it would not be possible to tell that there are Hungarians living in Slovakia.
“It is shocking but nevertheless remains the same every time,” Mesežnikov said. “They probably rely on the fact that they do not need to fight for Hungarian minority votes, which on one hand is a realistic estimate. But for a political party which wants to enter government and then rule with a Hungarian party, not to have any positive minorities programme is somewhat strange.”
Mesežnikov noted that the largest ruling party, Smer, devotes little attention to the Hungarian minority while placing great store in protection of national-state interests and Slovak patriotism; for all minorities they have just a single message, according to Mesežnikov, which is respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minority groups along with the promise of a “caring approach to the problem of national minorities in the context of evaluating Slovakia’s obligations [within] the Council of Europe.”
When asked by The Slovak Spectator to name the three top priorities of its election programme, the ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) listed protection of identity, good regional policies and the improvement of Slovak-Hungarian relations. Eva Dunajská of the SMK said that her party’s programme differs from the 2006 equivalent in terms of its “better minority policies”.
By contrast, Béla Bugár’s Most-Híd party lists the reduction of unemployment by a minimum of 30 percent, the fight against corruption and support for national minorities as its top three priorities, Nora Czuczorová of Most-Híd told The Slovak Spectator.
Smer, the SNS and the KDH did not respond to The Slovak Spectator's request for comments for this article.
Michaela Stanková contributed to this report.
7. Jun 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová